Student test scores fall for first time in national test's history

Math and reading test scores for the country's 13-year-olds have dropped sharply in comparison to numbers from 2012, with some of the lowest-scoring test takers falling the furthest behind.

Data from the the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showed that while 2020 average scores in reading and mathematics for 13-year-olds marked an improvement from the NAEP's earliest results in the 1970s, scores had declined since 2012.

U.S. News and World Report reported that this was the first major score drop in the subjects since the NAEP began tracking long-term academic achievement trends in the 1970s.

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Perhaps even more troubling was the study's finding that some of the most significant drops were from students in the lowest-performing percentiles. 

In math, for example, scores dropped for 9-year-olds in the 10th and 25th percentiles, and scores fell for 13-year-olds in the 10th, 25th and 50th percentiles.

"None of these results are impressive," Peggy Carr, the associate commissioner in the assessment division of the National Center for Education Statistics, said according to U.S. News and World Report.

"All of these results are concerning, but the math results were particularly daunting, particularly for 13 year-olds," she added. "I asked them to go back and check because I wanted to make sure [the results were accurate]. I've been reporting these results for years  for decades  and I've never reported a slide like that."

The results of the survey also indicated that fewer students reported reading for pleasure. In 1984, 9 percent of students never or hardly ever read for fun, compared to 16 percent in 2020.

These scores were collected just before the pandemic began, but fears that remote learning environments would lessen the quality of education during the COVID-19 pandemic were not necessarily unwarranted.

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Test scores from the 2020-2021 school year from various states and school districts indicated that the pandemic could have affected student performance

States such as Michigan and Tennessee saw particularly sharp declines among more at-risk students, including minorities, students with disabilities and those with economic disadvantages. 

But as a result of tests canceled in 2020 and decreased participation in annual exams last spring, educators say they may not know how disruptive the pandemic was for student learning until around next fall.