- The Washington Times - Monday, October 24, 2022

Students across the country saw marked drops in reading and math scores following the pandemic, according to a “report card” issued Monday that will reignite scrutiny of coronavirus-induced disruptions to classroom learning.

Drops in math scores were particularly dramatic and amounted to the biggest decline since the National Assessment of Educational Progress started taking a sample of scores from fourth- and eighth-graders in 1990.

A paltry 26% of eighth-graders were considered proficient in math in 2022 — down from 34% in 2019, which was prior to the pandemic and the most recent year in which the national report card was issued.

Fourth-graders in over 40 states saw their math scores decline. Only 36% nationwide were considered proficient, down from 41%.

Reading scores offered little solace, with only one-third of fourth-graders marked proficient, continuing a slide that began before the coronavirus hit and schools were shut down to prevent contagion. Only 31% of eighth-graders received proficient scores, the lowest number since 1998.

“The results in today’s Nation’s Report Card are appalling and unacceptable,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said. “This is a moment of truth for education. How we respond to this will determine not only our recovery but our nation’s standing in the world.”

Standardized test scores in America started to slip prior to the onset of the coronavirus but “the pandemic simply made it worse,” according to the secretary.

Nonetheless, parent groups declared vindication over their vocal concerns during the worst of the COVID-19 crisis.

“These numbers prove that American parents’ concerns about their children’s education during the pandemic weren’t speculative — but in fact, perfectly valid. American students were the subject of a years-long social experiment that will impact our country’s economy for decades to come,” said Nicole Neily, president of Parents Defending Education.

The results pose another challenge to President Biden, who has acknowledged the dire situation and prodded schools to use federal dollars earmarked to help students recover from missed classroom hours during the pandemic.

Mr. Cardona visited Fort Foote Elementary School in Fort Washington, Maryland, on Monday to promote the funds, including about $120 billion tucked into Mr. Biden’s massive virus-relief bill last year. The money is supposed to bolster tutoring, offer after-school programs and buy new textbooks, among other measures.

It might not be enough.

Researchers at the American Educational Research Association said schools likely need $700 billion to address learning loss, mainly from remote instruction, but received about $189 billion in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds allocated in 2020 and 2021.

The alarming new scores also could inject a new debate into the midterm campaign season.

Republicans generally pushed for the broad reopening of schools during the pandemic, warning of the impact on students and noting that COVID-19 did not cause high death rates among young 
Americans, immunized or otherwise.

Democrats often sympathized with teachers’ unions who demanded better virus controls before reentering the classroom.

Christine Drazan, the GOP nominee for governor in Oregon, said parents knew the pandemic-related closures would set back their children.

“These scores must serve as a clarion call to action. As our state’s next governor, I am committed to Oregon students and their families. I will work every single day to help ensure that students who have fallen behind are given the focused interventions they require to catch up and move forward,” she said.

While Monday’s report card suggested students suffered generally from the pandemic, it was difficult to draw clear conclusions about state-by-state decisions in reopening schools.

California, which was slow to reopen schools, and Florida, which did so faster, saw score declines that were less than the national averages but were similar to each other.

Texas reopened quickly and maintained its reading scores but saw a drop in math akin to elsewhere in the country.

“Our schools were already radically unequal, and the pandemic made them more so. It wasn’t a ‘cause’ of the low scores, but it was certainly an accelerator of them,” said Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor of the history of education at the University of Pennsylvania.

“Why expect otherwise? If you place students from impoverished circumstances in overcrowded classrooms — and with minimal support services — they will suffer academically. We know that. What we lack is any real political will to change it,” he said.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis claimed bright spots on the equity front, saying his decision to keep school open put Florida within the top 5 in the nation for average scale scores among Hispanic students across all grades and subjects and in the top 10 for average scores among Black students.

The nationwide average math score of 236 was still far better than the 213 registered in 1990, when the assessment began, though instructors are worried about the recent drop off in scores.

Every state except Utah saw notable drops among eighth-graders from pre-pandemic levels. In 17 states, plus D.C., those drops were in the double digits.

Education experts say math was particularly hurt by the loss of in-person learning because the subject is best taught in the classroom while reading, which dropped slightly to an average score of 217 for fourth-graders, can be done at home among non-classroom activities.

In the Beltway region:

• Maryland students saw their math scores in fourth grade drop to 229, a 10-point dip compared to 2019, while the eighth-graders fell 11 points to 26. Reading scores dropped by 8 points, to 212, among Maryland fourth-graders and by 5 points, to 259, among eighth-graders.

• D.C. students’ math scores dropped by 12 points, to 223, among fourth-graders and by 10 points, to 260, among eighth-graders. Reading scores dropped by 7 points, to 207, among fourth graders but remained steady among eighth-graders at 250.

• Virginia students’ math scores drop 11 points, to 236, among fourth-graders and slid by 8 points, to 279, among eighth-graders. Reading scores dropped 10 points, to 214, among fourth-graders and slipped by 2 points, to 260, among eighth-graders.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, bemoaned the fact only 32% of fourth-graders are proficient in reading, or slightly below the national average, and that his fourth-graders were only slightly more proficient in math than the national average.

The governor, who ran on a parents-first education platform and won the 2021 election, said he will raise education standards and hold schools accountable.

“Every parent in Virginia is now acutely aware that when my predecessors lowered educational standards, those lowered expectations were met,” Mr. Youngkin said.

“Virginia’s children bear the brunt of these misguided decisions. These actions were compounded by keeping children out of school for extended and unnecessary periods. Virginia may lose a generation of  children — particularly among our most in need,” he concluded.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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