The latest national report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), commonly known as “the nation’s report card,” reveals the full devastating extent of COVID-19 lockdowns on the nation’s education system, with students across the country seeing a significant drop in grades and test scores.
According to the Associated Press, math scores saw the largest decrease in recent history, with four out of ten eighth-graders failing to grasp basic math concepts. In addition, average reading scores dropped to their lowest levels since 1992. No state saw an improvement in academic performance.
This is NAEP’s first national report since 2019, with no report given in 2020 or 2021 due to the severe restrictions on education as a result of the Chinese coronavirus pandemic. Thus, as the first comprehensive national report on educational standards since the pandemic began, this year’s national report card paints a dire picture for the state of education as it struggles to recover, even a year after the pandemic more or less ended.
“It is a serious wakeup call for us all,” said Peggy Carr, commissioner of the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics. “In NAEP, when we experience a 1- or 2-point decline, we’re talking about it as a significant impact on a student’s achievement. In math, we experienced an 8-point decline — historic for this assessment.”
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, describing the results of the study as “not acceptable,” used the findings as proof that the federal government needs to continue giving billions in aid to local schools to recover.
The NAEP report, released every two years, was taken between January and March of this year, with a sample of students from every state. The study also looked at the nation’s 26 largest school districts. The report determined that both math and reading scores were even lower than those recorded in 2019, where academic performance had already begun stalling even before the pandemic hit; math scores in particular plummeted to the lowest rates since 1969, when NAEP released its first-ever national report.
The hardest-hit age group in math were eighth-graders, with 38 percent receiving scores ranked as “below basic. In 2019, the percentage of “below basic” eighth-graders in math was 31 percent. Similar declines could be seen in every region of the country, and every single state saw a decline in at least one major subject.
Carr, reflecting on the sheer devastation of such low scores, emphasized that the damage may be so great that simply hoping the trends will reverse on their own will not be enough.
“We want our students to be prepared globally for STEM careers, science and technology and engineering,” said Carr. “This puts all of that at risk. We have to do a reset. This is a very serious issue, and it’s not going to go away on its own.”
The significant decline is attributed to the decision by government authorities, at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, to respond by shutting down most aspects of daily life. Businesses, schools, and most other public places were ordered to completely close down for weeks, if not months on end, ostensibly to “slow the spread” of the mild disease.
The academic year of 2019-2020 thus saw the second half of the year completely canceled for most students, leading to many failing to complete their studies. The beginning of the 2020-2021 year saw an attempt to resume education with “remote learning” that had students stay at home and receive lessons from teachers on their computers. As 2021 began, some school districts attempted to combine virtual learning with a return to in-person learning, in what became known as “hybrid learning.” But some schools remained closed longer than others, with some districts being held hostage by teachers unions that took advantage of the pandemic to demand more benefits – even with regards to matters unrelated to COVID – or else the teachers would refuse to go back to work.