Math and reading scores for 9-year-olds in the US fell between 2020 and 2022 by a level not seen in decades, a foreboding sign of the state of American education two years after the Covid-19 pandemic began.
The results were part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress long-term trend reading and math exams, often called the “Nation’s Report Card,” conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics. The exams were administered to age-9 students in early 2020 before the pandemic and then again in early 2022, the group said.
The average scores in 2022 declined 5 points in reading and 7 points in math compared to 2020 – the largest decline in reading since 1990 and the first ever decline in math, the organization said.
US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona told CNN on Thursday the drop in scores was connected to the lack of in-person classroom education during the Covid-19 pandemic and said the US is in an education crisis.
“That is very alarming. It’s disturbing. But it’s not surprising, keeping in mind a year and a half ago over half of our schools were not open for full-time learning,” he said. All schools are now open for in-class learning, he said.
“In-person learning is where we need to focus. We need to double-down our efforts. I’m very concerned about those scores and I know that we have the resources now and we need to maintain the same level of urgency we had two years ago to get our students back in to making sure that our students get support.”
This is the first national report to compare student achievement from before the pandemic to now, Peggy Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, said in a statement.
“These are some of the largest declines we have observed in a single assessment cycle in 50 years of the NAEP program,” said acting NCES Associate Commissioner Daniel McGrath. “Students in 2022 are performing at a level last seen two decades ago.”
Students already behind struggled more, with their math scores falling by up to 12 points and reading score declining up to 10 points.
“Covid-19 disruptions may have exacerbated many of the challenges we were already facing. We know that students who struggle the most have fallen further behind their peers,” Carr said in a statement.
It’s not just the Covid pandemic that caused learning disruptions, Carr said.
“School shootings, violence, and classroom disruptions are up, as are teacher and staff vacancies, absenteeism, cyberbullying, and students’ use of mental health services. This information provides some important context for the results we’re seeing from the long-term trend assessment,” she said.
Math scores for Black and Hispanic children were lower than those of White children, the survey found, with White students declining 5 points, Black students declining by 13 points and Hispanic students declining 8 points.
Math scores also fell across the country, “eight points in the Northeast, nine points in the Midwest, seven points in the South, and five points in the West,” according to a news release about the survey.
Reading “scores fell seven points in the Northeast, seven points in the Midwest, and six points in the South” but there was no measurable difference in reading schools in the West.