In 2022, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) mathematics and reading assessments were administered to samples of Grade 4 and Grade 8 students in select school districts across the country. The 2022 mathematics and reading test scores were lower than 2019 scores among both fourth and eighth graders. Below, two Region 8 CC staffers, Chris Dwyer and Sheila Brookes, discuss how to understand these results.
Chris Dwyer: Many sources of data have pointed to the impact of lost learning time on student achievement, but nothing has caught policymakers’ attention as much as the recent release of NAEP reading and mathematics results. Results from the three states in our region, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio, generally follow patterns similar to the rest of the nation—that is, significant decreases in Grades 4 and 8 in both subjects in 2022 when compared to pre-pandemic 2019 results. The overall average 2022 scores for the three states tend to hover near the national averages—Michigan a little lower, Ohio and Indiana a little higher.
Turning these results into conversations and questions that create improvements requires a deeper dive into the dashboards and reports offered by The Nation’s Report Card. For example: While Indiana students at grades four and eight score significantly higher than the national average in mathematics, what might be behind the overall downward trend beginning in 2013? Diving deeper into the NAEP can illuminate gaps in outcomes and then potentially seek information about disparities in opportunities to learn. For example, the scale score gap in reading between high and low poverty students (eligible and not eligible for lunch subsidy) in the three states ranges from 20-30 points.
Gaps of those magnitudes are a reminder that significant disparities existed prior to the pandemic. While the current NAEP results may point to the immediate need for taking action to accelerate the pace of learning, meaningful change will require longer term transformative solutions. From that perspective, initiatives like high dosage tutoring, just-in-time interventions, consistent use of progress monitoring, and focus on priority standards may become part of routine teaching and learning.
Sheila Brookes: In 2022, average reading scores for the NAEP for Grade 4 students across the nation was 217, 3 points lower than in 2019 (the last data for this test that is available). This score is significantly lower than the 2019 score and the Grade 4 NAEP reading score national score has not been this low since 1998. The proficient score is not provided by the website. In this same year, Grade 8 students’ NAEP reading score was 260, 3 points lower than 2019. This is also statistically significantly lower than the 2019 score and it is the Grade 8 NAEP reading score has not been this low since 1992. In 2022, average mathematics scores for the NAEP for Grade 4 students across the nation was 236, 5 points lower than in 2019 (the last data for this test that is available). This score is statistically significantly lower than the 2019 score and the Grade 4 NAEP mathematics national score has not been this low since 2003. The proficient score for Grade 4 math is 249. Grade 8 students fared worse, with a score of 274, 8 points lower than in 2019. This score is also statistically significantly lower than the 2019 score and the Grade 8 mathematics NAEP national score has not been this low since 2000.
While these scores are of great concern, the lowered scores are not unexpected, given that the Grade 4 students of 2021-2022 have not had a typical school year since they were in Grade 1 and Grade 8 students have not had a typical school year since they were in elementary school (Grade 5). Three years of school disruptions, virtual learning, hybrid learning, and quarantines have significantly affected the education of this generation of children. Looking at these scores we might wonder if two or more decades in progress have been wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic. I would urge caution before making this leap. We need more data to determine if these losses will remain over time or if school-year enrichment programs and summer learning programs can help students to catch up. We should take a deep dive into this data, disaggregating the data to determine who suffered the greatest losses so that both efforts and funds can be put towards those who need the most support. It is likely that some segments of the population suffered greater losses while other students maintained status quo and some students likely flourished from one-on-one tutoring or small education pods during the pandemic. Bottom line, we have the data, we need to take a deep dive into the data to use it to make data-informed decisions.
The key takeaway from this discussion with Chris Dwyer and Sheila Brookes is that the COVID-19 pandemic likely played a significant short-term role in disrupting the learning developments of Grade 4 and Grade 8 students. But it is important to acknowledge that many students were already experiencing inequitable access to learning opportunities by virtue of socioeconomic status, racial or ethnic identity, language status, disability status, and other factors. In the long term, we need more data to determine whether and how much pf an influence the pandemic will have on students as they move on to other grades before we make wide reaching conclusions about learning loss.