New national data is giving us a look at the pandemic’s impact on student learning. Spoiler: Results aren’t honor roll material. Findings from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as the nation’s report card, show that fourth and eighth graders across the country scored lower in math and reading in 2022 compared to 2019.
In some ways, this isn’t surprising. COVID-19 disrupted everyday life and left millions of students doing virtual learning for months. And parents were left scrambling to keep up.
The report, released by the US Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), is mainly intended for policymakers and education leaders. But parents seeing these low scores may be wondering what they mean and how they can support their kids’ education. Well, we’re here to help. But first…
What do the nation’s report card results say?
The nation’s report card tested about 450,000 fourth and eighth graders in more than 10,000 schools between January and March. It was the first time the test had been given since 2019.
Math scores saw the largest decline since the first test was done in the early 1990s. For eighth graders, math scores fell in every state except Utah. About 25% of fourth graders and 38% of eighth graders didn’t have all the fundamental skills needed to really understand the subject and apply their knowledge in real-world situations.
Reading scores stayed steadier than math scores (the declines weren’t as steep). But there were still drops in 28 states for fourth graders and in 33 states for eighth graders.
PS: You can check out some of the sample math and reading questions.
The report shows that some kids who were already low performing lost even more ground than students at the top of their class. This was especially true in math for fourth graders.
“Particularly in math, there are a set of foundational skills that build on each other. Those students in particular didn't have as much of an opportunity to catch up with some of that unfinished learning,” said Chase Nordengren, PhD, the principal research lead for Effective Instructional Strategies at NWEA (a nonprofit that creates academic assessments for students pre-K-12).
The decline in scores varied by racial and ethnic groups, subject, and grade. For example, in eighth grade reading, scores didn’t significantly change from 2019 for Black and Hispanic students. But they declined in white students in 2022. For fourth grade math, Black and Hispanic students saw sharper drops than white students.
How worried should parents be?
There’s no need to panic.
The test is just one data point in the ongoing conversation about student learning. And it’s not the only indicator of a child’s knowledge or success (teachers know better where your kids stand, more on that below).
And remember: The nation’s report card is mainly intended for policymakers (aka: national, state, and local education leaders) to see what areas need improvement (and investment). Many of them use the results as a call to action to help students recover from serious learning losses.
“The case from district to district and from state to state can look very different. And what individual students know and can do can look very different from what the big overall message is,” said Nordengren. “I would not get too caught up in the national numbers and the national trends.”
What can parents do?
Start with your child’s teacher (whether they are behind or you just want to get an idea of where they stand academically). Teachers have a good pulse on your child’s learning and know where they excel and where they may need help. Set up a call and ask if there's anything you can do to support your kid at home.
Private or small-group tutoring may be a good option, but it should be in collaboration with the teacher (translation: Work together to create a thought-out tutoring plan to address specific issues).
Model real-life learning
Itmay be a good time to finally read that book you bought two years ago (for some good ol’ ‘practice what you preach’). It’s important to model reading to your kids because it shows them that it’s important (pro tip: next time you’re sittervising, make an effort to pick up a book instead of your phone). And of course, reading together is great too.
Math may be tricker. But Nordengren said parents can help by using math in real-world situations (think: comparing food prices and value at the grocery store or letting them calculate the change when paying for certain things).
“Those simple day-to-day examples of how mathematics works in their life can be a really important opportunity for students to get that practice and to make connections between what they're learning in the classroom and what they're seeing in the rest of their life,” he said.
Free educational resources
Public libraries and museums likely have free resources for students (like tutoring, classes, or help with homework).
Khan Academy is a nonprofit that offers free online learning tools for students and teachers. They have videos on several subjects (including math, science, grammar, and computer programming) and offer test prep too.
Learning Heroes provides free online videos and activities to help parents support their kids in math and reading. Bonus: They have mock questions and emails parents can send teachers to ask about their student’s progress.
NWEA education blog has a ton of posts that break down confusing ed terminology, provide resources for at-home work, and offer tips for working alongside your school.
The nation’s report card validated many parents’ worries about the pandemic’s impact on our children (and their education). Education experts hope the test results will push policymakers to do more to address pandemic learning losses. And for parents, it’s a good reminder to check in with their kids and teachers. There are ways to support your child’s learning, whether they’re three or 13.
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