Latest Nation’s Report Card data show decades of decline for 13-year-olds

Editor’s note: This story on the latest scores released from the National Assessment of Educational Progress originally appeared Wednesday in The 74.

COVID-19’s cataclysmic impact on K–12 education, coming on the heels of a decade of stagnation in schools, has yielded a lost generation of growth for adolescents, new federal data reveal.

Wednesday’s publication of scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) — America’s most prominent benchmark of learning, typically referred to as the Nation’s Report Card — shows the average 13-year-old’s understanding of math plummeting back to levels last seen in the 1990s; struggling readers scored lower than they did in 1971, when the test was first administered. Gaps in performance between children of different backgrounds, already huge during the Bush and Obama presidencies, have stretched to still-greater magnitudes.

The bad tidings are, in a sense, predictable: Beginning in 2022, successive updates from NAEP have laid bare the consequences of prolonged school closures and spottily delivered virtual instruction. Only last month, disappointing results on the exam’s history and civics component led to a fresh round of headlines about the pandemic’s ugly hangover.

But the latest release, highlighting “long-term trends” that extend back to the 1970s, widens the aperture on the nation’s profound academic slump.

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BY Special to NextSteps