New Federal Data Shows How Far Reading And Math Scores Fell During The Pandemic

Newly released federal data show how reading and math scores plummeted the past few years, erasing decades worth of progress.

By Erika Hanson | Published

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reading and math

Reading and math have long been arduous subjects for schools to teach. American students long struggled with these core subjects. But a few decades ago, the nation saw an upward trend, making headway in achievement and success. Today, 9-year old’s scores in those areas plummeted thanks to the pandemic, setting the nation back on decades worth of growth.

According to recently releases federal data, reading and math levels have taken a nosedive over the past two years. Reading scores plummeted, hitting a low not seen in 30 years. Since 1970, math scores had depicted an upward trend. But for the first time since, 2019 brought the subject’s first-ever national decrease, according to information made available by the annual release of the Nation’s Report Card.

The reading and math data characterizes the struggles exacerbated and exposed in American education at the onset of the pandemic. Schools across the U.S. shut down for months on end. Some remained virtual for nearly an entire school year. Learning at home was reported to have drastic effects on many students’ achievement. And even as schools welcomed students back, COVID protocols often meant that entire schools were forced to go virtual because of outbreaks of the virus.

While the reduction of learning for reading and math hit all walks of the nation, it disproportionately affected students of color. A large number of students without internet access are allegedly Black and Latino. This meant that many of these minorities were left out of instruction during school closures. For white students, math scores dropped an average of five percent, while it dropped 13 points for Black students. 

Despite this grave finding, the lowest-performing students in the nation were already experiencing declines in reading and math scores, furthering proof of the educational achievement gap’s prominence. However, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona placed some blame on former President Trump for the decrease in student achievement during the pandemic. “Today’s data confirm the significant impact the prior Administration’s mismanagement of the pandemic has had on our children’s progress and academic well-being,” Cardona said in a press release

Cardona’s comments were berated by many, who feel that teachers’ unions were largely to blame for keeping schools closed during the pandemic. Unions all across the nation, including the country’s largest union, The American Federation of Teachers, urged lawmakers to keep schools virtual throughout much of the pandemic. Across the board, many citizens disagreed with this measure, forecasting how it would harm students reading and math scores. 

reading and math

Schools have already begun initiatives looking to reverse this downward spiral on reading and math scores. Tutoring programs have become a popular method to help young children catch up. Even the Biden administration has helped in efforts to place tutors with students to help bolster their success. However, many educational experts remain cautious about whether or not these initiatives will do enough to make up ground for the drastic drop in reading and math scores.

At the elementary level, reading and math scores are crucial in foreshadowing students’ success down the road. Addressing learning gaps early on is necessary to help children succeed later on. With a generation of young Americans now feeling the effects of learning loss during the pandemic, the future does not bode well for many.