Fourth and eighth graders lag behind in reading, with the biggest drop in math, according to a national education assessment showing the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on U.S. children.
The shocking findings are based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress reading and maths test, commonly known as the “National Report Card”, conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, a division of the Ministry of Education.
U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona told CNN’s Brianna Keilar: “If this is not a wake-up call for us to redouble our efforts and improve education, even Before it — before the pandemic, then I don’t know what’s going to happen.” on Monday’s “New Day.”
He called on schools to ensure they use funds from the Covid relief package passed in 2021 to boost student achievement.
Cardona said the widespread teacher shortage was a “symptom of decades of underinvestment” in schools and called for districts to pay teachers more competitively.
According to the center’s commissioner, Peggy Carr, the first national assessment of student achievement in three years showed fourth- and eighth-graders have seen the sharpest decline in math achievement since the initial assessment in 1990. Tests are conducted between January and March.
No state or large urban area saw an improvement in math, the report said. Eighth-grade math scores declined in more than 50 states and jurisdictions that participated in the assessment. The last transcript was released in 2019, before the U.S. had a pandemic, when schools closed and teachers turned to online learning.
“Eighth grade is the gateway to more advanced math courses,” Carr told reporters ahead of the report’s release. “That’s what these students are missing. They’re missing these important skills that will ultimately prepare them for careers at the (science, technology, engineering and maths) level.”
The average fourth grade math score was 236, five points lower than in 2019 and eight points lower than the 274 in eighth grade in 2019. Compared to 2019, this year’s fourth grade reading score of 217 dropped by three points, the same as the eighth grade’s 260 drop.
frustrating result More than a month later, the results of the national assessment were released showing that math and reading performance among 9-year-olds, usually fourth graders, dropped between 2020 and 2022 to levels not seen in decades.
The Nation’s Report Card provides the first detailed look at how disruptions from the health crisis and virtual learning are affecting fourth- and eighth-graders across the country.
The report shows that the pandemic has affected all students, but has disproportionately affected the most vulnerable groups that have been hit hardest.
Eighth-grade math test scores declined for most racial and ethnic groups, as well as for low-, intermediate- and high-performing students. Fourth-grade math scores fell for all races and ethnicities except Hawaiian-Pacific Islanders.
The gap between white students and black and Hispanic students is wider in 2022 than it was three years ago, and black and Hispanic students experience a steeper decline in math achievement, further widening those gaps.
“What we’re seeing is (lower performing) students … declining faster, and we’re also seeing students who don’t show a decline — students who are at the top of the list, meaning students with higher performance levels — — they even improved during the pandemic,” Carr said. “All students now, regardless of their ability, are dropping out. That’s the point we need to remove from this report.”
Math tests reflect the performance of 116,200 fourth graders in 5,780 schools and 111,000 eighth graders in 5,190 schools. 108,200 fourth graders in 5,780 schools and 111,300 eighth graders in 5,190 schools took the reading test.
The decline can only be attributed in part to the dynamics of schooling during the pandemic, when schools closed and later turned into a mix of online and in-person classes in some cities.
“Nothing in these data tells us that there are measurable differences in performance between states and territories based solely on how long schools have been closed,” Carr said.
“And let’s not forget that distance learning looks very different across the U.S. The quality — all the factors associated with implementing distance learning — is very complex.”
Average math and reading scores fell across the country in fourth and eighth grades — in the Northeast, Midwest, South and West, the report said.
“We weren’t surprised to see math scores take a bigger hit,” Carr said. “Math is just more sensitive to schooling. You really need good teachers to teach math. Reading, on the other hand, is something parents and the community are more willing to help students with.”
Carr said more analysis is needed to understand the role the pandemic played in the decline, as well as other factors such as teacher shortages and bullying.
“This has to be a wake-up call for this country that we must make education a priority,” Beverly Perdue, the former governor of North Carolina and chairman of the National Assessment Management Board, which oversees the exam, said in a statement.