The results released Monday provide “the clearest picture yet” of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on learning, said Peggy G. Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). , sometimes referred to as the “state’s transcript.” Describing the decline in math in particular as palpable and disturbing, she said she hopes educators will use the data to chart a course for recovery.
The percentage of eighth graders rated math proficient or better fell to 27 percent from 34 percent in 2019.average math score Eighth grade scores fell eight points, from 282 in 2019 to 274 this year, out of 500, and fourth grade grades fell five points — the biggest drop in more than half a century.
The figures clearly show just how steep a climb U.S. educators face as they embark on a potentially years-long effort to help students make up for missed learning as schools struggle to function during the pandemic.
“It’s a very clear indicator of the real impact on our children’s learning over the past two years,” said Eric Gordon, chief executive of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, where scores have fallen sharply.
Average test scores for Cleveland fourth-graders dropped 15 points in math and 16 points in reading. For eighth graders, math dropped 8 points and reading dropped 7 points.
Part of the reason for Cleveland’s poor results, Gordon said, was testing there shortly after the region was hit by a surge in the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
He said Cleveland schools are working to mitigate the damage by spending more time with students: extended hours, homework help, tutoring and an extensive summer enrichment program. “We have to make time to increase our study time,” he said. “Time is what affects us, time is what it takes to get us back.”
The recorded decline is particularly troubling given the already shaky academic performance in the United States. In early 2020, before the pandemic closed schools, 13-year-olds’ NAEP reading and math test scores fell, the first decline since the test began in 1969.
“The pandemic has only made things worse,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona told reporters on Friday.
He called the new report an “urgent call to action” for schools to recover. Congress has allocated about $190 billion in coronavirus relief funding to schools, some of which must be used to address learning loss.
“We have to deal with the task of catching up with our kids with the urgency of the moment,” Cardona said. “If that doesn’t inspire you to raise the standard of education, you’re doing it wrong.”
Last year was a far cry from a normal year as students returned to campus. Educators are scrambling to deal with coronavirus surges, quarantines, mask requirements and staffing shortages. They face more student violence, rising absenteeism and intense mental health needs. Teacher morale is low, and schools are experiencing numerous teacher and staff vacancies.
Public education is facing a huge crisis
Partisans on all sides of the education debate seized on the results and offered competing ideas on the way forward.
Some argue that more federal and state funding is needed to help children catch up, while others say the troubling data makes it clear that districts need to spend the money they already have faster. Some have called for a full response to support teachers as they struggle to climb back on track.
“This is an urgent time to build strong home-school partnerships,” said Anna King, president of the National PTA.
Advocates of school choice policies that support private schools use the data to argue that the existing system has failed. Former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement that children should no longer be “hostages” in a “cookie-cutter system that fails to meet their needs.”
The test results also provide fodder for those who believe it is the right move to quickly return students to school, even as the pandemic rages, with many children being kept at home or choosing to study at home for too long.
“We are keeping our schools open in 2020, and today’s NAEP results once again prove that we made the right decision,” Florida Governor. Ron DeSantis (R) say on twitter.
But the data did not establish a link between back-to-school policies and academic performance. In California, for example, many public schools were closed for an extended period of time for the 2020-21 school year, and some students never saw classrooms that year. But the decline is similar to that seen in Texas and Florida, where schools have been asked to reopen more quickly.
Linda Darling Hammond, chair of the California State Board of Education, attributed state spending on summer school, tutoring and other initiatives to match losses in other states. Still, the state saw a notable decline, though not worse than many other states.
“We really put billions of dollars into learning rehabilitation,” she said. She said she hoped the report would signal to leaders that more of the same is needed. “Sadly, if people deal with this at the end of the pandemic, we don’t have to worry about investing in children’s learning and mental health anymore.”
A survey conducted with the test found that students with higher test scores received more support while learning remotely.
Compared with the lowest-performing eighth-graders, top-performing students are more likely to have a desktop computer, laptop, or tablet at all times; have a quiet place to work at least some of the time; have a teacher to help each week; and Take live online classes with your teacher every day or almost every day.
The decline in math scores wiped out years of slowly incremental progress, with a particularly steep decline among fourth-graders, the lowest academically attainment students.
In 2019, 19 percent of fourth-graders were considered “below NAEP base,” at the bottom end of the spectrum, a number that has declined significantly over the years. This year, that percentage rose to 25 percent of the total. Likewise, the bottom 10 percent of fourth graders lost an average of 7 points; the top 10 percent lost 2 percentage points.
In eighth grade, average math scores fell in every state in the nation, with all states except Utah seeing significant declines compared to 2019. This decline was spread across different racial and ethnic groups and between high and low students.
Reading scores also fell, with fourth- and eighth-grade reading scores dropping by three points. Still, the drop isn’t as steep as the math, and there are more bright spots.
More than half of the states, plus the District of Columbia, held steady in fourth and/or eighth grade reading. Most of the 26 metropolitan school districts that took the test were unchanged—meaning no improvement, no decline, and a bright spot when looking at the overall results. One of them — the Los Angeles Unified School District — actually saw eighth-grade reading scores improve by nine points.
Other studies have also found larger declines in math and math. read. Experts speculate that it is easier for parents to help their children read than to do math. For most adults, discussing a book is more comfortable than helping with math formulas.
“Math is more sensitive to good schooling,” Carr said. “You need math teachers to teach math.”
In the district, fourth-grade reading scores fell by eight points, but remained steady in eighth grade. Lewis D. Ferebee, the superintendent of the Washington Public School System, applauded the positive outcomes for older students, saying it reflects “our investments in literacy and the fact that we were even before the pandemic. the support provided.”
State education director Christina Grant expressed optimism that the numbers could improve. DC officials plan to spend nearly $1 billion in federal aid on initiatives such as summer programs, tutoring and curriculum changes, and the city plans to hire more math and reading specialists. “We know what works, and we know our recovery efforts will reverse these results,” she said.
The NAEP test is conducted in public and private schools across the country in a random sample. This year, 224,000 fourth graders from about 5,700 schools entered the competition, and 222,000 eighth graders from about 5,100 schools entered the competition. Testing will take place between January 2022 and March 2022.
Lauren Lumpkin contributed to this report.