Policy & Assessment

NAEP: Remote Learning Not Solely to Blame for Decline in Reading and Math Achievement

Most of the United States saw declines in reading and math achievement on standardized tests between 2019 and 2022. Those declines happened in both fourth- and eighth-grade in a large majority of states and jurisdictions.

Achievement in math fared worse than in reading. In fact, not a single state or jurisdiction saw improvement in math, and the declines were more substantial than those seen in reading scores, according to the latest results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), released Monday by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

NAEP, also known as the Nation's Report Card, includes assessment data from all 50 states, plus three jurisdictions: Department of Defense Education Activity, District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

“The results show the profound toll on student learning during the pandemic, as the size and scope of the declines are the largest ever in mathematics,” said NCES Commissioner Peggy G. Carr in a prepared statement. “The results also underscore the importance of instruction and the role of schools in both students’ academic growth and their overall wellbeing. It’s clear we all need to come together—policymakers and community leaders at every level — as partners in helping our educators, children, and families succeed.”

NCES noted that the declines between 2019 (the last assessment before the pandemic) and 2022 (the first assessment since 2019) were the largest in history.

  • In eighth-grade math, scores dropped in 51 out of 53 states and jurisdictions, with two remaining flat (Utah and Department of Defense Education Activity).

  • The average decline in eight-grade math was eight points (from 282 in 2019 to 274 in 2022).

  • In fourth-grade math, 43 states and jurisdictions saw declines, with 10 staying flat.

  • The drop in fourth-grade math was five points (from 241 in 2019 to 236 in 2022).

“Eighth grade is a pivotal moment in students’ mathematics education, as they develop key mathematics skills for further learning and potential careers in mathematics and science,” said Daniel J. McGrath, acting as NCES associate commissioner for assessment, also in a prepared statement. “If left unaddressed, this could alter the trajectories and life opportunities of a whole cohort of young people, potentially reducing their abilities to pursue rewarding and productive careers in mathematics, science, and technology.”

In reading, meanwhile, average scores were not quite as bad as they were in math, but the picture is still a bleak one.

  • In grade 8 reading, only one jurisdiction saw improvement (Department of Defense Education Activity). Eighteen saw no change, and 33 saw declines.

  • The average reading score dropped three points in grade 8 (from 263 in 2019 to 260 in 2022).

  • In grade 4 reading, nobody saw improvement. Twenty-two states and jurisdictions were flat, and 31 saw declines.

  • The average grade 4 reading score also dropped three points (from 220 in 2019 to 217 in 2022).

“Despite the countless obstacles that students faced over the course of the pandemic — including instability at home, decreased access to resources, teacher shortages, cyberbullying, and an uptick in violence once schools reopened—we also see pockets of remarkable resilience across the country, particularly in the country’s urban districts,” said Carr. “But academic recovery cannot simply be about returning to what was ‘normal’ before the pandemic, as the pandemic laid bare an ‘opportunity gap’ that has long existed. It also showed how every student was vulnerable to the pandemic’s disruptions. We do not have a moment to waste.”

However, NAEP noted on its Twitter account today that there was no single factor that contributed to the decline, including the switch to remote learning.

"The pandemic was a major factor," according to the tweet. "but the data are clear regarding remote learning: The 2022 scores cannot be attributed to school closures alone."

Further details about the latest report can be found at nagb.gov.

About the Author

David Nagel is the former editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal, STEAM Universe, and Spaces4Learning. A 30-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art, marketing, media, and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/davidrnagel/ .