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First ‘sobering’ glimpse of pandemic’s effects on young students: 9-year-olds’ reading and math scores plummet

The pandemic has created serious learning gaps in children

The pandemic has created serious learning gaps in children


Washington – The math and reading scores of American 9-year-olds dropped dramatically in the first two years of the pandemicaccording to a new federal study – offering a first look at the magnitude of the learning setbacks inflicted on children nationwide.

Reading scores saw their biggest drop in 30 years, while math scores saw their first drop in the history of the testing regime behind the study, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, an arm of the department. American education.

The declines affected all regions of the country and affected students of most races. But students of color have seen some of the biggest declines, widening the racial achievement gap.

Much of the country’s standardized testing did not take place during the early days of the pandemic, so the results released Thursday gave a first glimpse of the impact of pandemic learning disruptions. Broader data is due to be released later this year as part of the National Assessment of Education Progress, also known as the National Report Card.

“These are some of the largest declines we have seen in a single evaluation cycle in 50 years of the NAEP program,” said Daniel McGrath, acting associate commissioner of NCES. “Students in 2022 are performing at a level not seen two decades ago.”

The study reflects two years of upheaval in American education as schools closed for months at a time amid COVID-19 outbreaks. Many students spent a year or more learning from home, and virus outbreaks among staff and students continued to be disruptive even after children returned to class.

In mathematics, the average score of 9-year-old students fell by 7 percentage points between 2020 and 2022, according to the study. The average reading score fell by 5 points.

The upheavals of the pandemic have particularly affected students of color. Math scores fell 5 percentage points for white students, compared to 13 points for black students and 8 points for Hispanic students. The gap between black and white students has widened by 8 percentage points during the pandemic.

The declines were more even in reading: Scores fell 6 points for white, black, and Hispanic students.

For Asian American students, Native American students, and students of two or more races, there was little change in reading or math between 2020 and 2022, the study found.

Geographically, all regions saw declines in math, but the declines were slightly worse in the Northeast and Midwest compared to the West and South. The results were similar for reading, except the West had no measurable difference from 2020.

Although it marks a steep decline since 2020, the average reading score was 7 points higher than in 1971, and the average math score was 15 points higher than in 1978, according to the study.

Overall, the findings paint a “sobering picture” of schooling during the pandemic, said NCES commissioner Peggy Carr.

Federal officials say this is the first nationally representative study to compare student achievement before the pandemic and in 2022, when most students had returned to in-person learning. Testing was completed in early 2020, shortly before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, and in early 2022.


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