In a predictable, yet nonetheless shocking outcome, the latest scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress record the biggest decline in math in three decades.
Fourth graders saw a five-point decline in math, with the percentage scoring as proficient dropping from 41% to 36%.
In both fourth- and eighth-grade reading, student’s NAEP scores dipped three points from 2019 to 2022. Thirty-three percent of fourth graders reached reading proficiency in 2022, down from 35% in 2019. Among eighth graders, reading proficiency declined from 34% to 31%. That’s right—fewer than one-third of eighth graders now can read proficiently.
Overall, 49 out of 50 states saw statistically significant declines in eighth grade math; 33 states saw statistically significant declines in eighth grade reading. Declines in some states were particularly acute:
- Fourth graders in Delaware fared the worst in math, losing 14 points—a year-and-a-half’s worth of progress.
- Fourth graders in Maryland, New Mexico, New York, Virginia, and the District of Columbia lost over a year’s worth of learning in math (minus 10 points).
- Virginia fourth graders lost 10 points in reading.
- Oklahoma eighth graders lost 13 points in math, while Delaware and West Virginia eighth graders lost 12 points. Those in Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania lost 11 points.
- Eighth graders in Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Maine, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia lost 10 points in math.
As education researcher Ben DeGrow points out, eighth grade math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress are devastating. Ninety percent of states lost at least half a year’s worth of learning in math, with 18 states losing an entire year. DeGrow notes that only Utah schools and Defense Department schools were spared in the decline.
Math and reading declines on the “main” NAEP follow the declines in math and reading reported in September on the NAEP long-term trend assessment of 9-year-olds.
Although scores fell in nearly every state to a greater or lesser degree, as Harvard University’s Marty West found, student scores declined more on average in states where remote learning was more prevalent. The relationship between remote learning and learning declines is negative and statistically significant, but the strength of the correlation is weak, with remote instruction explaining less than 10% of the change in test scores, according to West’s analysis.
Which means declines in test scores are most likely a combination of bad policies: school closures induced by teachers unions that require emergency remote instruction plus special interest groups’ preoccupation with radical gender ideology and critical race theory during this crisis.
As early as the fall of 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was reporting that in-person learning was rarely a source of COVID-19 outbreak. Yet teachers unions continued to fight to keep schools closed, some even doing so this year in places such as Chicago, Detroit, and Boston.
One bright spot exists: Catholic schools. While public school policies led to historic declines in learning over the past two years, Catholic schools safeguarded student achievement.
For example, students in Catholic schools saw no declines in fourth grade math, while public school students lost five points. Although public school students lost three points in eighth grade reading, Catholic school students actually gained a point.
These scores do matter. As economist Eric Hanushek has demonstrated, academic achievement scores predict future economic growth. Higher scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test in a given state portend higher economic growth in the future.
Yet, as some have quipped, “Two weeks to slow the spread” turned into “Two years to flatten a generation.” Sadly, the new NAEP data are proving that to be true.
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