(NewsNation) — Math and reading scores fell significantly for 9-year-olds during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, dropping to where they were 20 years ago.
In 2022 the National Center for Education Statistics, a branch of the U.S. Education Department, issued National Assessment of Educational Progress tests to 9-year-old students to examine their achievement during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Results were startling: The average scores for students declined by 5 points in reading and 7 points in math compared to 2020. The reading score hasn’t seen such a large decline since 1990, while the math score saw its first-ever decline, according to the center.
“These are some of the largest declines we have observed in a single assessment cycle in 50 years of the NAEP program,” Daniel McGrath, the acting associate commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, said. “Students in 2022 are performing at a level last seen two decades ago.”
This study comes after two years of upheaval in American schools, as they had to shut down for months at a time because of COVID-19 outbreaks. Students spent much time over this period learning from home, and virus disruptions didn’t let up, even after kids went back to the classroom.
Julie Jordan, a mom of two, said she’s not surprised by the report card after watching her own children fall behind.
“As a parent, we had to pick up the legwork and try to fill them in as much as we could, and it was still hard,” Jordan said. “And then you still had to deal with the teachers that were out because of their own kids with COVID. So it was just a really bad, vicious cycle.”
Statistics showed the pandemic’s upheaval especially hurt students of color.
Math scores for Black students fell by 13 points, compared to 5 points for white students. Reading scores dropped 6 points for white, Black and Hispanic students, according to the study. Altogether, the score gap between Black and white students widened by 8 percentage points during the pandemic — from 25 points in 2020 to 33 in 2022.
As The New York Times wrote, there has been research to document how deeply school closures affected low-income, as well as Black and Hispanic, students because their schools were more likely to have longer periods of remote learning.
However, there was one area where the achievement gap narrowed: between students attending suburban schools and those going to city schools.
What the declines in test scores mean, according to the New York Times, is that many 9-year-olds can demonstrate partial understanding of what they read, but fewer can infer a character’s feelings. Another illustration the Times used was in math: The research shows that although students might know simple arithmetic, not as many can add fractions with common denominators.
Reading and math scores, while they declined across the board for most 9-year-olds in the study, decreased even more for lower-performing students, compared to 2020.
Lower-performing students also had fewer resources, according to the study. Of the 70% of those tested who learned remotely during 2020-2021, higher performers had greater access to a tablet or desktop or laptop computer; better access to quiet places to work, at least some of the time; and a teacher available to help them every day or almost every day.
Test results released Thursday were drawn from a nationally representative sample of about 15,000 9-year-olds, USA Today said.
Overall, the results paint a “sobering picture” of schooling during the pandemic, said Peggy Carr, commissioner of the NCES.
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, in an opinion essay from USA Today, acknowledged that the pandemic “has had profound impacts on our youth and children.”
“Our students’ academic performance will reflect these impacts — as well as inequities in educational opportunity that preceded and continued through the pandemic,” Cardona wrote. “That’s also why under President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, we’ve directed over $130 billion in funding to school districts across the country to keep schools open and help them accelerate student learning.”
Tracy Fisher, a candidate for Texas’ State Board of Education who’s served on her local school board for a decade, said the solution to declining scores is to meet kids where they are, and make school fun and normal again.
“Kids can’t learn it faster. They’re not computers, they’re children,” she said. “So I think right now, if we want to move forward and help our kids learn, and quite frankly keep our teachers, we need to just give them time.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.