US math, reading test scores plunge for students across country following COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic’s toll on the learning of kids across the U.S. was revealed through national test scores released Monday that show sharp declines in math and reading.

Math scores saw their largest decreases ever, while reading scores dropped to levels not seen since 1992 for fourth and eighth graders across the country, according to the Nation’s Report Card. 

The average mathematics score for fourth-grade students fell five points from 2019 to 2022. The score for eight-graders dropped eight points. Reading for both grades fell three points since 2019.

Not a single state saw improvement in their average test scores, with some recording no change at all. Schools in large urban districts also reflected the national average.


“The results show the profound toll on student learning during the pandemic, as the size and scope of the declines are the largest ever in mathematics,” said NCES Commissioner Peggy G. Carr. 

Math scores were worst among eighth graders, with 38% earning scores deemed “below basic” — a cutoff that measures, for example, whether students can find the third angle of a triangle if they’re given the other two. That’s worse than 2019, when 31% of eighth graders scored below that level.

“The results also underscore the importance of instruction and the role of schools in both students’ academic growth and their overall wellbeing,” Carr said, adding that “we do not have a moment to waste” in helping students’ academic recovery.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said it’s a sign that schools need to redouble their efforts, using billions of dollars that Congress gave schools to help students recover.

“Let me be very clear: these results are not acceptable,” Cardona said.

Millions of students were forced to learn virtually from home for months, or in some cases longer, during the pandemic. 

The NAEP test is typically given every two years. It was taken between January and March by a sample of students in every state, along with 26 of the nation’s largest school districts. 

National test scores show that fourth and eighth grade students across the U.S. have declined in both mathematics and reading since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

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