Math scores plunge for 13-year-olds as pandemic setbacks persist

WASHINGTON (AP) — The math and reading scores of 13-year-old Americans have fallen to their lowest levels in decades, with math scores dropping by the biggest margin on record, according to results from a test known as the national report card.

The findings, released Wednesday, are the latest measure of deep learning setbacks suffered during the pandemic. While earlier tests revealed the scale of America’s learning loss, the latest test shines a light on the persistence of those setbacks, dampening hopes for a speedy school recovery.

More than two years after most students returned to in-person classrooms, there are still “worrying signs about student achievement,” said Peggy G. Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, a branch of the Federal Ministry of Education.

“The ‘green shoots’ of school resumption that we hoped to see have not materialized,” Carr said in a statement.

In the national sample of 13-year-old students, average math scores fell by 9 points between 2020 and 2023. Reading scores fell by 4 points. The test, officially called the National Assessment of Academic Progress, was administered from October to December last year to 8,700 students in each subject.

Similar setbacks were reported last year when the NAEP released broader findings showing the impact of the pandemic on U.S. fourth and eighth graders.

Scores in maths and reading had fallen before the pandemic, but the latest results show a steep drop that erases earlier gains from the years before 2012. Scores on the maths exam, which has been administered since 1973, are now at their lowest level. since 1990. Reading scores are at their lowest since 2004.

The disproportionate declines among the lowest performing students are particularly alarming to officials. Students at all achievement levels saw declines, but while the strongest students saw slides of 6-8 points, the lowest performers saw declines of 12-14 points, the results show. .

There were also differences by race. Students of almost every race and ethnicity saw their math scores drop, but the biggest drops were among Native American students, at 20 points, and black students, at 13 points. The drop for white students, by comparison, was 6 points, while Asian students were tied.

The setbacks of the pandemic appear to persist even as schools across the United States spend billions of dollars to help students catch up. The federal government sent historic sums of money to schools in 2021, allowing many to expand tutoring, summer school and other recovery efforts.

But the country’s 13-year-olds, who were 10 when the pandemic started, are still struggling, Carr said.

“The strongest advice I have is that we have to keep going,” she said. “It’s a long road ahead of us.”

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said the results confirm what the Biden administration knew all along: “that the pandemic would have a devastating impact on student learning across the country and that it would take years of effort and investment to reverse the damage and remedy the 11-year decline that preceded it.

Still, Cardona said he was encouraged by signs of improvement elsewhere, with some states returning to pre-pandemic levels on their own math and reading assessments.

The exam is designed to measure basic math and reading skills. Students were asked to read passages and identify the main idea or locate certain information. In mathematics, they were asked to perform simple multiplications and to approach basic geometry, by calculating, for example, the area of ​​a square. Most of the questions were multiple choice.

When asked about their reading habits, fewer students than ever say they read for pleasure every day. Only 14% said they read daily for pleasure – which has been linked to better social and academic outcomes – compared to 27% in 2012. Nearly a third of students said they never or hardly ever read for pleasure, compared to 22% in 2012.

The test also revealed a worrying increase in student absenteeism. The proportion of students missing five or more days of school in a month has doubled since 2020, reaching 10% this year. According to the results, students with fewer missed days had higher average scores in reading and math.


The Associated Press education team receives support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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