‘Nation’s Report Card’: Two decades of growth wiped out by two years of pandemic

Editor’s note: This analysis of long-term scores from NAEP, which show unprecedented score declines, appeared today on The 74.

Two decades of growth for American students in reading and math were wiped away by just two years of pandemic-disrupted learning, according to national test scores released this morning.

Dismal releases from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) — often referred to as the “nation’s report card” — have become a biannual tradition in recent years as academic progress first stalled, then eroded for both fourth and eighth graders. But today’s publication, tracking long-term academic trends for nine-year-olds from the 1970s to the present, includes the first federal assessment of how learning was affected by COVID-19.

The picture it offers is bleak. In a special data collection combining scores from early 2020, just before schools began to close, with additional results from the winter of 2022, the report shows average long-term math performance falling for the first time ever; in reading, scores saw the biggest drop in 30 years.

And in another familiar development, the declines were much larger for students at lower performance levels, widening already-huge learning disparities between the country’s high- and low-achievers.

The results somewhat mirror last fall’s release of scores for 13-year-olds, which also revealed unprecedented learning reversals on the long-term exam. But that data was only collected through the fall of 2019; the latest evidence shows further harm sustained by younger students in the following years.

Peggy Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, said on a call with reporters that the “sobering” findings illustrated the learning losses inflicted by prolonged school closures and student dislocation.

“It’s clear that COVID-19 shocked American education and stunned the academic growth of this age group of students,” Carr said. “We don’t make this statement lightly.”

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