The COVID-19 pandemic set back decades of academic progress for 9-year-olds, according to the results of special math and reading assessments administered during the pandemic.

The math scores of 9-year-olds nationwide dropped for the first time ever, accompanied by the largest average drop in reading scores since 1990, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

The average scores for 9-year-old students in 2022 declined five points in reading and seven points in math compared with 2020, according to data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).[1]

Black students experienced a sharper decline in test scores compared with their white counterparts, adding to the achievement gap that exists between white and Black students. The report also highlights notable declines in scores for students with disabilities and low-income students.[2]

This assessment is the only nationally representative data that measures student achievement pre-pandemic through 2022. NCES conducted the special assessment for 9-year-old students and will release data from the full assessment for fourth and eighth grade students later this year.

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How did scores differ by student group?

Students who were already struggling, meaning students who ranked in the bottom 10th percentile in math and reading scores, saw the largest drop in scores between 2020 and 2022.

Math scores dropped 12 points for the lowest performing students. Reading scores dropped 10 points for this same group.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, performance scores declined for students of all races, but was most apparent for Black and Hispanic students whose math scores dropped by 13 points and eight points, respectively. White 9-year-old students experienced a five-point score decrease in math.

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There was no significant change in math scores for Asian students, American Indian/Alaska Native students or multiracial students.

The reading scores for Black, white and Hispanic students dropped six points on average, between 2020 and 2022. The scores did not significantly change during this time period for students of other races.

Scores dropped about equally for male and female students. Both male and female 9-year-old students' reading scores declined by five points between 2020 and 2022. The trend stayed consistent for math scores, dropping eight points for females and seven points for males.

Students with disabilities and low-income students experienced steeper declines in math and reading scores compared with their counterparts, adding to the achievement gap for disadvantaged students.

How did scores differ by geography?

In towns and suburbs, reading scores fell eight and nine points, respectively. City and rural schools did not experience a drop in reading scores. Suburban reading scores were higher than city reading scores in 2020, but the pandemic brought the scores closer.

Math scores dropped nine points for suburban schools and seven points for schools in towns and cities. Rural schools had the smallest decrease, with a five-point drop.

According to data collected from NCES, about 70% of students recalled learning remotely at some point during the 2020-2021 school year. Students in suburban schools and city schools reported learning remotely at higher rates (73% and 71%, respectively) compared with students in towns (60%) and rural schools (66%).

Did remote learners have access to educational resources?

The report from NCES found that of the students learning remotely, higher-performing students—those at or above the 75th percentile in test scores—had greater access to resources such as devices, high-speed internet and a teacher available to help them with their school work every day or almost every day.

About 83% of higher-performing students had a desktop, laptop or tablet all of the time, compared with about 60% of lower-performing students.

About 43% of higher-performing students had access to high-speed internet, compared with 26% of lower-performing students.

To learn more about reading and math proficiency of K-12 students, see USAFacts' K-12 Education.

[1]

A student is considered low-income if they are eligible for the National School Lunch program.

[2]

Scale scores summarize the overall level of performance attained by students. NAEP produces summary statistics describing scale scores for groups of students. NAEP subject area scales typically range from 0 to 500.