Schoolchildren in the United States have fallen behind in their learning by almost a year in some subjects due to the impact of school closures and other pandemic measures, according to the latest assessments from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). The Dispatch has the story.
The NAEP tests a representative sample of 4th and 8th-grade students on reading and maths skills to determine how their learning compares to past students at that age. Scores were already slipping before the pandemic, but in the latest round – administered this spring – about a third of students didn’t meet the lowest reading benchmark, and maths performance saw its steepest decline since the NAEP’s first tests were administered in 1990. The details of the drops vary by age, ethnicity, and other categories, but virtually every measure shows losses.
“I want to be very clear: The results in today’s nation’s report card are appalling and unacceptable,” Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said Monday. “This is a moment of truth for education. How we respond to this will determine not only our recovery but our nation’s standing in the world.”
Researchers consider 10 points on the NAEP to represent about a school year of learning.“ 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,” NAEP commissioner Peggy Carr told the Associated Press. “In maths, we experienced an 8-point decline.”
To be clear, that doesn’t mean the students tested forgot maths they’d already learned – it’s a measure of how far behind they are compared to previous students at their age.
The scores show the havoc wreaked on kids’ learning by abrupt transitions to online learning – and the several semesters of disruption that followed. But although research has established that the students who stayed in remote school the longest typically saw the biggest losses, the NAEP results don’t fit that pattern – California, where schools tended to stay shut longer, didn’t score much differently than eager-to-open Florida.
Even setting the remote vs. in-person debate aside, these NAEP results underline what we already knew – a lot of America’s kids aren’t where they should be academically, and it’s going to take concerted intervention to help them close the gap. The stakes are high: Students could be dealing with the consequences of these learning losses for years to come if schools don’t succeed, since children who read poorly in elementary school are more likely to drop out of high school, for example, while the eighth graders who took the assessment last spring are now in a critical time to prepare for college.