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National math and reading scores decline for 13-year-olds

  • Schools grapple with pandemic learning loss as test scores hit record lows
  • Math scores at lowest since 1990; while reading scores at lowest since 2004
  • Scores for both subjects dropped for this first time between 2012 and 2020

(NewsNation) — Math and reading scores among the nation’s 13-year-olds had taken another blow amid declining scores exacerbated by pandemic learning loss, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Math scores had the largest drop since the federal government began its assessments in 1978. NAEP found the average math scores for 13-year-olds dropped by 9 points from 280 to 271 between the 2019-2020 and 2022-2023 academic school years. The highest point available for each test is 500.

Average reading scores for 13-year-olds fell four points from 260 to 256 over the same amount of time. It’s the lowest point since 2004.

Average scores for 13-year-olds in reading are at their lowest point since 2004 and in math since 1990. However, for the lowest-performing students, scores in math are thrown back to 1978, while reading has dropped to levels seen before 1971. 

In math, scores for most racial groups over the pandemic dropped between six points and 20 points, except for Asian American students, who did not see a statistically measurable difference but still had a slight decrease. 

In reading, scores declined for white students, Black students and those of two or more races. Students attending Catholic schools, along with Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska Native and Asian students, did not see a measurable difference.

While the pandemic has certainly accelerated a decline, math and reading scores have been falling over the past decade.

“Scores for 13-year-olds declined for the first time in both subjects between 2012 and 2020, beginning a downward trajectory that has lasted for more than a decade, and has not been reversed. Middle school is a critical time for students—a time when they are maturing academically as well as socially and emotionally. What happens for students in middle school can strongly influence their path through high school and beyond,” said NCES acting Associate Commissioner Dan McGrath. 

The results show a continuing trend with other NAEP reports over the pandemic that found other students such as fourth graders have also suffered serious setbacks. 

For between 2019 and 2022, NAEP released data in October showing math scores fell five points for fourth graders and eight points for eighth graders. In reading, both grades fell three points.

For average civics scores, eighth graders had a two-percent decrease between 2018 and 2022, setting them back to levels last seen in 1998, according to another data set released in May.

This is the last special report NAEP is conducting in its examination of scores between the beginning and end of the COVID-19 pandemic, putting little hope in the current recovery after many students have been in-person for class for the past two years. 

The Hill contributed to this report.


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