Mathematics and Reading Scores of Fourth- and Eighth-Graders Declined in Most States

Mathematics and Reading Scores of Fourth- and Eighth-Graders Declined in Most States

A majority of states saw scores decline for fourth- and eighth-graders in mathematics and reading between 2019 and 2022, according to the latest results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as The Nation’s Report Card, released today by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The national average score declines in mathematics for fourth- and eighth-graders were the largest ever recorded in that subject.

“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. “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.”

There were no improvements in mathematics in any state or large urban district, and eighth-grade mathematics scores declined in 51 participating states and jurisdictions since the assessment was last given in 2019, the year prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Eighth-grade mathematics scores did not change in Utah or the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity schools.

“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. “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.”

“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 Commissioner 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.”

The data from The Nation’s Report Card released today offer the first look at the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on what the nation’s fourth- and eighth-graders know and can do using a common measure of student achievement and the first student-level achievement data for all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Schools, Puerto Rico, and 26 large urban districts that volunteered to participate in the assessment.

National Results

Nationally, the average mathematics score for fourth-graders fell five points since 2019 (from 241 to 236), while the score for eighth-graders dropped eight points (from 282 to 274). In reading, average scores for both grades fell three points (from 220 to 217 at fourth grade and from 263 to 260 at eighth grade).

The percentage of students performing below the NAEP Basic level increased across both subjects and grade levels. In mathematics, 25 percent of fourth-graders were below the NAEP Basic level in 2022 (an increase from 19 percent in 2019) and 38 percent of eighth-graders were below NAEP Basic (an increase from 31 percent in 2019). In reading, the percentage of fourth-graders below the NAEP Basic level increased from 34 percent in 2019 to 37 percent in 2022, and the percentage of eighth-graders below NAEP Basic increased from 27 percent in 2019 to 30 percent in 2022. The NAEP Basic achievement level represents partial mastery of the prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for performance at the NAEP Proficient level, which represents competency over challenging subject matter. The NAEP Basic level is the least stringent of the three achievement level goals for American students that are set by the National Assessment Governing Board.

Declines were most widespread on the eighth-grade mathematics assessment, where scores declined across most racial and ethnic groups and for students across the performance distribution (lower-, middle-, and higher-performing students). Fourth-grade mathematics scores declined for all racial and ethnic groups except native Hawaiian-Pacific Islander students.

In eighth-grade reading, scores declined only for White students among the racial/ethnic groups, by four points. Scores declined in fourth-grade reading for American Indian/Alaska Native, Black, Hispanic, and White students.

State Results

A majority of states saw lower scores, on average, across grades and subjects since 2019. There were no improvements in fourth- and eighth-grade mathematics, as average fourth-grade mathematics scores declined in 43 states and jurisdictions and did not change in 10, and eighth-grade mathematics scores declined in 51 states and jurisdictions and remained steady in two. There were no improvements in fourth-grade reading, as average fourth-grade reading scores declined in 30 states and jurisdictions and did not change in 22. At eighth grade, reading scores declined in 33 states and jurisdictions, did not change in 18, and rose in one (the Department of Defense Education Activity).

District Results

NCES also reports student achievement for selected large urban school districts through the NAEP Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) program. Fourth- and eighth-graders in 26 urban districts participated in the mathematics and reading assessments in 2022.

A useful benchmark for comparing the progress of the urban districts participating in NAEP is the average score for the “Large City” group—the NAEP classification for cities with populations of 250,000 or more. Since the last assessment in 2019, the average fourth-grade reading scores for large city schools declined three points; and in mathematics, the average score for large city schools declined 8 points for both fourth and eighth grades, reflecting the national pattern. However, unlike for the nation and most states, the large city average score did not decline for grade 8 reading.