The COVID pandemic required educators to move rapidly from in-person classes to remote learning. Many educators had little experience with online instruction, especially at the scale necessary to educate all students. The question became, what impact would this rapid change in instructional approaches have on student achievement? Education Week has reported the results of the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) testing data from the spring of 2022. The previous testing period was in the spring of 2020, just before the pandemic resulted in the widespread closure of schools and the shift to remote learning. Comparing data from 2020 with scores from 2022 clearly shows that COVID significantly negatively impacted education nationally.
Overall, math scores dropped by 7 points. This is the first decline in math scores in the fifty years of assessing academic achievement by the NAEP. Reading scores fell by 9 points, the largest drop since 1990. For example, White and Black, students all saw decreases in math and reading; however, these groups had substantial differences. In math, White students’ scores fell by 5 points. Black students scores dropped 13 points. The gap between these two groups increased from 25 points to 33 points between 2020 and 2022. Students across all regions of the country had lower scores in math; every region except the West had lower reading scores.
Figure 1 describes changes across achievement levels in math between 2020 and 2022. Students in the lower-performing groups were most adversely effects by the pandemic. For example, students in the 90th percentile in 2020 dropped 3 points in 2022; students at the 25th percentile in 2020 dropped by 11 points in 2022.
Figure 1: Changes in math scores for nine-year-old students across achievement levels from 2020-2022. Image from National Center for Education Statistics.
Link for image: https://epe.brightspotcdn.com/dims4/default/bda4b4f/2147483647/strip/true/crop/600×415+0+0/resize/600×415!/format/webp/quality/90/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fepe-brightspot.s3.amazonaws.com%2F5d%2F55%2F958b49944e17ad263b017fa85587%2Ffigure-1-mathematics.jpg
The data in Figure 2 reflect the changes in reading across achievement levels. The pattern is the same as in math. The pandemic negatively impacted students in the lower-performing groups more significantly.
Figure 2: Scores for nine-year-old students across achievement levels from 2020-2022. Image from National Center for Education Statistics.
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It is unclear what accounts for the differences across the achievement groups, but one possible contributing factor was access to support for remote learning. For students scoring at the 75th percentile or higher, 83% reported having access to a desktop, laptop, or tablet all the time during remote learning. For students at the 25th percentile or lower, only 58% reported that they had the same access. These data are suggestive and do not necessarily reflect a causal relation. Considerably more research is needed to establish a causal role.
Please read the complete report in Education Week for more data regarding the impact of the COVID pandemic.
Schwartz, S. (Sept. 1, 2022) Students Math and Reading Plummet, Erasing Gains, National Assessment Finds. Education Week.
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