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Students' Math and Reading Scores Plummet to Decades Low Thanks to COVID Lockdowns

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Test scores released by the U.S. Department of Education showed a drastic decline for 9-year-olds between 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic school shutdowns and this year.

“The declines erase decades of academic progress. In two years, reading scores on a key national test dropped more sharply than they have in over 30 years, and math scores fell for the first time since the test began in the early 1970s,” Chalkbeat reported.

The 9-year-olds are performing in math at the same level they were nationally in 1999, and the same reading level as 2004.

“I was taken aback by the scope and the magnitude of the decline,” Peggy Carr said, head of the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the Department of Education.

“The big takeaway is that there really are no increases in achievement in either of the subjects for any student group in this assessment — there were only declines or stagnant scores for the nation’s 9-year-olds,” she added.

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The National Assessment of Educational Progress test, conducted by the NCES, is known as “the nation’s report card.”

It involves testing 15,000 randomly selected students nationwide, attending both public and private schools.

“It’s clear that COVID-19 shocked American education and stunned the academic growth of this age group,” Carr told reporters on a Wednesday call, according to Chalkbeat. “No other factor could have had such a dramatic influence on student achievement in a relatively short period of time.”

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The Washington Post reported, “Schools began to struggle in spring 2020, as school buildings were shuttered nationally and learning faltered during the last few months of the school year.

“Then, for at least part of the next school year, millions of students learned remotely or under hybrid schedules that blended virtual and in-person classes. Last year, schools opened for in-person classes, but many scrambled repeatedly to manage covid surges, quarantines, mask mandates and staffing shortages.”

The test results showed that those in the top 90th percentile of students lost the least between 2020, before the school closures, and 2022, with the students’ math scores dropping 3 points and their reading 2 points.

But the lowest 10th percentile of students fell significantly from two years ago: math down 12 points and reading 10 points.

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The New York Times reported, “Research has documented the profound effect school closures had on low-income students and on Black and Hispanic students, in part because their schools were more likely to continue remote learning for longer periods of time.”

In a Thursday statement, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona blamed the test score decline on what he characterized as the Trump administration’s poor COVID-19 response, though the decision to keep schools opened or closed was handled at the state and local levels.

“Today’s data confirm the significant impact the prior Administration’s mismanagement of the pandemic has had on our children’s progress and academic wellbeing,” Cardona said.

In the summer of 2020, Trump pushed for schools to reopen for the upcoming academic year, and Republican governors like Ron DeSantis in Florida, Kim Reynolds in Iowa and Bill Lee in Tennessee led the way in that effort.

Meanwhile, some of the longest school closures were in Democratic-led states like California, New York and Washington.

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