State of the Facts
The COVID-19 pandemic set academic progress back decades for fourth and eighth graders, according to the results of national math and reading assessments administered during the pandemic.
The math scores of both fourth and eighth graders nationwide fell by the largest amount on record. The achievement gap widened for Black and Hispanic students and for the lowest performing students.
Every two years the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP)tracks student progress in math and reading. The assessment examined the progress of a sample of more than 116,000 fourth graders and 111,000 eighth graders, allowing for comparison across all states and some cities. The pandemic delayed the 2021 test to 2022, so this is the first look at fourth and eighth grade student performance in math and reading since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
NAEP’s long-term trend assessment scores released last month foreshadowed the decline in 9-year-old performance, with the first ever drop in math in the test’s 50-year history.
Math and reading scores for eighth graders recorded during the pandemic show the largest decline in proficiency since the NAEP test was administered.
NAEP tracks student performance using three achievement levels: basic, proficient, and advanced.
The math scores of eighth graders dropped 8 points, with 26% of students considered proficient — a performance level not seen since 2000. Fourth grade math scores dropped by 5 points, with 37% of students considered proficient, meaning they can handle challenging work related to subject matter. Fourth grade math proficiency is now at a 2003 level, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Only 38% of eighth graders and 25% of fourth graders aren't capable of meeting NAEP’s basic achievement level.
Although math scores fell by the largest amount on record, scores remain higher than in 1990 when math assessments were first given.
Reading scores fell by 3 points for both fourth and eighth graders nationwide.
A third of fourth graders and 31% of eighth graders were proficient in reading in 2022.
In Delaware, Washington, DC, and Virginia, scores dropped by 13, 12 and 11 points, respectively — the largest changes of all states. In Alabama and Illinois, math scores did not significantly change. Of the 26 urban districts that participated in math assessments in 2022, scores declined in all but three districts.
No state or district experienced an increase in math scores.
Eighth grade math scores dropped in all regions of the country and in all 51 states/jurisdictions. Oklahoma eighth grade math scores decreased by 13 points, the largest in the nation. Delaware and West Virginia both dropped 12 points in eighth grade math scores.
Fourth grade reading scores decreased in 30 states, with Virginia experiencing the largest decline at 10 points. No state experienced an increase in reading scores.
Eighth grade reading scores decreased in 33 states/jurisdictions. Maine experienced the largest decline with scores dropping 8 points. Reading scores increased in one place —the Department of Defense Education Activity— a federally operated school system responsible for educating children of military families.
Across all categories — race, ethnicity, gender, grade level — no group had improved math scores between 2019 to 2022.
In both fourth and eighth grade reading assessments, Asian/Pacific Islander students scored about 12 points higher than white students. This is about a 4-point increase in the achievement gap from 2019.
In fourth grade reading assessments, the pre-COVID achievement gaps between Black and white and Hispanic and white students did not change significantly on the most recent assessment.
In fourth grade math assessments, white students scored about 29 points higher than their Black peers and 21 points higher than their Hispanic peers.
The pre-COVID achievement gaps between Black and white and Hispanic and white students did not change significantly on the most recent eighth grade math assessment.
Students with disabilities and English language learners did not experience substantial changes in scores between 2019 and 2022, despite both groups performing below NAEP proficiency levels.
To learn more about reading and math proficiency of K-12 students, see USAFacts' K-12 Education.
According to the National Assessment Governing Board, “the NAEP proficient level is intended to reflect solid academic performance and is not intended to match the proficiency levels set by State departments of education. Additionally, it does not signify being on grade level.”
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