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Reading & Math Scores Saw Historic Decline During Pandemic

2022 data shows largest drop in reading scores in more than 30 years

Reading and math scores saw a historic decline between 2020 and 2022, new government data shows.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, average scores for nine-year-olds declined five points in reading and seven points in mathematics compared to 2020.

This marks the largest drop in reading in more than 30 years, and the first ever score drop in mathematics.

“We have all been concerned about the short- and longer-term impacts of the pandemic on our children. There’s been much speculation about how shuttered schools and interrupted learning may have affected students’ opportunities to learn,” NCES Commissioner Peggy G. Carr, PhD., said in a statement.

She said that policies enacted in response to the pandemic took their toll on education in other ways, including more students seeking mental health services, truancy, school violence, cyberbullying, and staffing shortages.

“COVID-19 disruptions may have exacerbated many of the challenges we were already facing,” she stated. “We know that students who struggle the most have fallen further behind their peers. The 2020 long-term trend assessment showed that scores in both mathematics and reading for 9-year-olds were flat overall since the prior assessment in 2012, but lower-performing students had significant declines.”

The study reflects the impact that school closures had on learning and development in U.S. children. Many schools across the nation closed in March 2020 and millions of students, denied the option of in-person learning, were forced to attend school remotely.

“These are some of the largest declines we have observed in a single assessment cycle in 50 years of the NAEP program,” said Daniel McGrath, the acting associate commissioner of NCES. “Students in 2022 are performing at a level last seen two decades ago.”

News of the test score results drew criticism from many people on social media, who took aim at the response to the pandemic by lawmakers and school boards.

In late-Spring 2021, e-mails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request showed that the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) lobbied the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) and also suggested language for the agency’s school-reopening guidance.

According to the e-mails, AFT president Randy Weingarten played a central role in the partnership between the teachers union and CDC officials who were developing guidance on how, when, and under what circumstances to re-open U.S. schools to in-person learning.

As of the time of publication, there was no public statement from the AFT or National Education Association (NEA) — the nation’s two largest teachers unions.

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