On Thursday, a new study by the U.S. Department of Education showed that the learning skills of most of America’s 9-year-old students fell sharply during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, particularly in the areas of math and reading.
According to the Associated Press, the statistics released by the Education Department’s National Center for Education Studies (NCES) will be just a small part of the broader data to be released later this year showing the full impact of COVID restrictions on American students. Among 9-year-old students from 2020 to 2022, reading scores saw the biggest decline in the last three decades with a 5-point drop, while math scores saw their first-ever decrease in the history of the study, dropping by 7 points.
The full National Assessment of Educational Progress report, colloquially known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” is to be released in full later this year. The study normally draws upon standardized test scores as a major metric, but such testing did not take place after the pandemic set in, thus marking an already terrible start to the academic numbers of the 2019-2020 school year and the subsequent 2020-2021 year.
“These are some of the largest declines we have observed in a single assessment cycle in 50 years of the NAEP program,” said acting associate commissioner of NCES Daniel McGrath. “Students in 2022 are performing at a level last seen two decades ago.”
The declines in reading and math comprehension were seen all across the country, but the worst impact was felt in the Northeast and the Midwest, while the West and the South fared slightly better.
Despite the significant drop since 2020, overall scores were still up compared to previous decades; the average reading score is about 7 points higher than in 1971, while the average math score remains 15 points higher than it was in 1978.
The American education system suffered a nearly catastrophic blow with the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns and other restrictions. After school was initially canceled for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year, schools that resumed in late 2020 first attempted to implement “remote learning” or “virtual learning,” where students remained at home and attended classes on their computers; this method proved to be extraordinarily inefficient, with children being unable to retain as much information and being more easily distracted over the computer as opposed to in-class learning.
Subsequently, schools began shifting to a “hybrid” model that combined partial in-person learning with continued virtual learning, which only marginally improved education quality for students.