State Watch

Test scores show largest math declines ever for fourth, eighth graders

Students’ math scores nationwide dropped by the largest amount ever this year while reading scores also saw sharp declines, according to newly released Education Department data that provides the most thorough view yet into learning loss during the pandemic.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, commonly referred to as the nation’s report card, found that the average math score for fourth graders between 2019 and 2022 fell 5 points, while scores for eighth graders dropped 8 points.

In reading, fourth graders’ and eighth graders’ scores both fell 3 points.

“The results show the profound toll on student learning during the pandemic, as the size and scope of the declines are the largest ever in mathematics,” said National Center for Education Statistics Commissioner Peggy Carr. 

“The results also underscore the importance of instruction and the role of schools in both students’ academic growth and their overall wellbeing,” Carr continued. “It’s clear we all need to come together — policymakers and community leaders at every level — as partners in helping our educators, children and families succeed.”

The center provides the assessment to fourth and eighth graders across the country to monitor student performance, finding that no state or large urban district’s math scores improved during the pandemic.

Most saw declines, except for eighth graders in Utah and Department of Defense schools that serve children of military personnel working overseas, whose scores remained relatively flat.

The center recorded the math score declines in most racial and ethnic groups.

“Eighth grade is a pivotal moment in students’ mathematics education, as they develop key mathematics skills for further learning and potential careers in mathematics and science,” said Daniel McGrath, the center’s acting associate commissioner for assessment. “If left unaddressed, this could alter the trajectories and life opportunities of a whole cohort of young people, potentially reducing their abilities to pursue rewarding and productive careers in mathematics, science and technology.”

Beyond the raw scores, the center tracks how many students meet or exceed various achievement levels: basic, proficient and advanced.

A quarter of fourth graders scored below the basic level on the math assessment, a 6-point increase from 2019. Thirty-eight percent of eighth graders scored below the threshold, increasing from 31 percent in 2019.

For reading, the proportion of fourth graders and eighth graders scoring below the basic threshold both increased by 3 points.

In eighth grade reading, scores declined only for white students while other racial and ethnic groups fared better. Fourth grade reading scores declined among American Indian, Black, Hispanic and white students.

“But academic recovery cannot simply be about returning to what was ‘normal’ before the pandemic, as the pandemic laid bare an ‘opportunity gap’ that has long existed,” Carr said. “It also showed how every student was vulnerable to the pandemic’s disruptions. We do not have a moment to waste.”

Tags Education Nation's Report Card pandemic learning loss test scores
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