Math and Reading Scores Plummeted for Students During Pandemic

A masked elementary student / Getty Images
September 1, 2022

Nine-year-old students' reading and math scores have dropped dramatically over the last two years, according to a new report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a branch of the Department of Education.

In 2022 the average reading score for nine-year-old students declined 5 points from 2020, the largest drop since 1990. Average math scores for 2022 fell for the first time in the program's history, dropping 7 points from 2020. The NCES's nationally representative report specifically examined student achievement during COVID-19 lockdowns. The center is expected to release a broader report later this year as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation's Report Card.

These results add to the mounting evidence of the pandemic's alarming impact on American education. In May, a Harvard study of virtual learning during the pandemic found that K-12 students lost 50 percent of their typical math curriculum learning in the 2020-2021 school year. The Associated Press reported last month that after two years of virtual and hybrid learning, many students are significantly less prepared for college.

Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona told CNN that the NCES data "is very alarming. It's disturbing. But it's not surprising, keeping in mind a year and a half ago over half of our schools were not open for full-time learning." Cardona's remarks are a shift from last year, when he said that keeping schools closed as long as they were "wasn't a mistake."

A lack of in-person learning is not the only way in which the pandemic has taken a toll on education, NCES commissioner Peggy Carr wrote in a statement Wednesday.

"There's been much speculation about how shuttered schools and interrupted learning may have affected students' opportunities to learn," Carr wrote. "Our own data reveal the pandemic's toll on education in other ways, including increases in students seeking mental health services, absenteeism, school violence and disruption, cyberbullying, and nationwide teacher and staff shortages."