Stark, appalling, unacceptable, and massive — these are just some of the ways federal leaders familiar with the National Assessment of Educational Progress have described the results released Monday for the Nation's Report Card.
The 2022 NAEP scores put an exclamation point on the growing evidence that student achievement took a turn for the worse as a result of the pandemic. "This is coming now from NAEP, which has been the gold standard assessment — it's really our North Star — for where things are in the country," said Julia Rafal-Baer, a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the federal exam.
National assessment experts agree the results should be ringing alarm bells for educators. "A once-in-a-generation virus upended our country in so many ways — and our students cannot be the ones who sacrifice most in the long run," said U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona in a statement. "We must treat the task of catching our children up with the urgency this moment demands."
Here are 6 charts to better understand how 2022 reading and math scores for grades 4 and 8 compare to pre-pandemic levels.
Math scores dipped nationwide
Declines in scores were large and nationwide. Reading scores for 4th graders decreased in 30 states and jurisdictions compared to 2019, and no states showed an improvement in scores.
Math score declines were steeper and more widespread.
In 8th grade math — which Peggy Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, described as the "gateway to more advanced mathematical course taking" — scores dropped in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, with decreases ranging from 4 to 13 points. Only Utah's drop was not statistically significant.
"Those are demonstrative declines that I would say are meaningful," Carr said. Historically, drops at the state level have been only a couple of points.
Math scores saw steepest declines recorded
Nationally, this added up to the steepest average score declines ever recorded in math. Fourth grade math scores fell 5 points since 2019 (from 241 to 236), and the score for 8th graders dropped 8 points (from 282 to 274).
8th grade math scores declined across multiple races
These drops were spread across many student racial subgroups. In fact, White, Hispanic, Black and Asian students all experienced decreases in average NAEP scores. For Black and Hispanic students, this exacerbates a situation where they had already started out behind their White and Asian peers.
4th grade reading dropped to levels not seen in years
Fourth grade reading — which is often a benchmark for student success in other subjects down the road — also took a hit, dropping by 3 points from 220 to 217. That new score is not significantly different from the first reading assessment back in 1992.
Grade 4 reading scores declined for most student reading groups
While multiple student racial subgroups also declined in 4th grade reading, some drops were steeper than others. Black, American Indian and Alaskan Native students already lagged behind their peers in 2019 and then experienced greater drops than other groups in 2022 — pushing them even further behind than where they started prior to the pandemic.
Low performers reported less remote learning access
The 2022 NAEP results also indicated that access to high-quality remote learning made a difference. Higher performers who reported learning remotely in the last year were more likely than lower-performing students to say they had access to a learning device all the time, a quiet place to study some of the time, and a teacher available to help at least once or twice a week.
While there was no direct link drawn between remote learning access and score outcomes, Carr said that along with multiple other factors, it could have contributed to the widespread declines.