National math and reading scores declined sharply during the pandemic

We have more data on the impact the pandemic has had on our kids and their education and the results are disheartening.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) ran a special administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) long-term trend (LTT) reading and mathematics assessments for students who are 9 years old. Average scores declined 5 points in reading and 7 points in mathematics compared to 2020. This is the largest decline in reading in 30 years and the first ever decline in mathematics.

NAEP, sometimes called the “nation’s report card,” is a congressionally mandated program administered by the U.S. Department of Education.  It is the nation’s only ongoing, representative assessment of what students in different grades know and can do. The main NAEP is given to students who are in 4th, 8th, and 12th grade, whereas the LTT assessments are administered to students sampled by age.

The test results also showed greater score decreases for lower-performing students. For both math and reading, age 9 students showed steeper declines in the lowest percentiles. For example, for students in the 90th percentile, reading scores declined 2 points and math results declined 3 points. For students in the 10th percentile, reading scores were down 10 points and math scores were down 12 points.

The test results also show widening performance gaps between different subgroups of students. For example, those eligible for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), a common proxy for poverty, saw reading scores fall 6 points, compared to 2 points for those not eligible for NSLP. Mathematic results fell 8 points for those eligible for NSLP compared to 5 points for those students who were not eligible for NSLP. The LTT had previously shown a gradual narrowing of achievement gaps between racial and ethnic groups. In this year’s data, the performance gap in mathematics widened sharply between white and African American students and white and Hispanic students, pointing to greater inequality.   

The pandemic has had a profound impact on every aspect of our lives, and education is clearly no exception. The new results are sure to add fuel to the already heated debate over how best to improve America’s schools and how to help our kids recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic.

NCES will be releasing more data from the both the main NAEP and this LTT administration in the coming months.