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Report Card: Math and Reading Scores of 4th and 8th Graders Declined in Most States During Pandemic

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 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).

MATHEMATICSREADING
GRADE 4GRADE 8GRADE 4GRADE 8
INCREASE000▲1Department of Defense
Education Activity
 NO CHANGE10Alabama, Illinois,
Iowa, Department of
Defense Education
Activity, Wisconsin,
Hawaii, Nebraska,
South Carolina,
Louisiana, Georgia
2Utah, Department of
Defense Education
Activity
22Louisiana, Alabama,
Hawaii, South
Carolina, Department
of Defense Education
Activity, Florida,
Arizona, Illinois,
Alaska, New
Hampshire, Texas,
Wyoming, Colorado,
California, Georgia,
Mississippi, Wisconsin,
Iowa, Rhode Island,
Montana, Washington,
Arkansas
18Hawaii, Nevada,
Alaska, California,
New York, District of
Columbia, Texas, New
Jersey, Louisiana,
South Dakota, Arizona,
Utah, Virginia,
Georgia, Alabama,
Iowa, Illinois,
Minnesota
▼DECREASE▼43South Dakota,
Montana, Wyoming,
North Dakota,
Tennessee, Ohio,
Michigan, Utah,
California, Kansas,
Washington, Vermont,
Texas, Arkansas,
Florida, New
Hampshire, Rhode
Island, North Carolina,
Kentucky, West
Virginia,
Massachusetts,
Arizona, Colorado,
Idaho, Indiana,
Missouri, Nevada,
Alaska, Pennsylvania,
New Jersey,
Connecticut,
Mississippi, Maine,
Oklahoma, Oregon,
Minnesota, New York,
New Mexico,
Maryland, Virginia,
District of Columbia,
Delaware, Puerto Rico
▼51Idaho, Alabama,
Alaska, Iowa, Nevada,
Hawaii, Rhode Island,
Wyoming, Nebraska,
South Dakota,
California, Louisiana,
New York, Montana,
Texas, Indiana, North
Dakota, Florida, South
Carolina, Illinois,
Arkansas, Wisconsin,
Michigan, Virginia,
Tennessee, Mississippi,
Georgia, Missouri,
New Hampshire,
Kentucky, Oregon,
Arizona, Colorado,
District of Columbia,
Ohio, Connecticut,
Washington, New
Mexico, Maine, North
Carolina, Vermont,
Kansas, Minnesota,
Pennsylvania,
Massachusetts, New
Jersey, Maryland, West
Virginia, Delaware,
Oklahoma, Puerto Rico
▼30Ohio, North Dakota,
Nebraska, South
Dakota, Utah,
Massachusetts,
Pennsylvania,
Kentucky, Indiana,
Kansas, New Jersey,
Missouri, Vermont,
Tennessee, North
Carolina, Connecticut,
New Mexico, New
York, Nevada,
Michigan, Minnesota,
Maryland, Oregon,
District of Columbia,
Idaho, West Virginia,
Oklahoma, Maine,
Delaware, Virginia
▼33Rhode Island, Idaho,
Mississippi, Montana,
Florida, Arkansas,
Colorado, Wyoming,
New Mexico,
Michigan,
Massachusetts,
Kentucky, Nebraska,
Vermont, Washington,
New Hampshire,
Tennessee, Ohio,
Pennsylvania,
Maryland, South
Carolina, North
Dakota, Wisconsin,
Indiana, Missouri,
Connecticut, West
Virginia, North
Carolina, Kansas,
Oregon, Delaware,
Oklahoma, Maine

Learning Opportunities and Teacher Confidence During the Pandemic

NCES collected information on how the pandemic affected student learning experiences and opportunities as part of the 2022 NAEP administration.

Across both subjects and grades, higher percentages of higher-performing students (students performing at or above the 75th percentile) had access to key educational resources than lower-performing students (students performing below the 25th percentile) during remote learning in the 2020–21 school year, including the following:

  • Access to a desktop computer, laptop, or tablet all the time;
  • A quiet place to work at least some of the time;
  • Their teacher available to help with schoolwork at least once or twice a week; and
  • For eighth-graders, real-time video lessons with their teacher every day or almost every day.

NCES also collected information on teacher confidence in performing remote instruction tasks, including addressing knowledge and skill gaps that may have occurred due to pandemic-related school closures. Fifty percent of teachers or fewer reported feeling “quite” or “extremely” confident in their ability to address learning gaps:

  • At fourth grade, 11 percent of students had teachers who reported being “extremely confident” in addressing knowledge and skills gaps, while 35 percent of teachers in mathematics and 36 percent of teachers in reading reported being “quite confident.”
  • At eighth grade, 14 percent of students had teachers who reported being “extremely confident” in addressing knowledge and skills gaps, while 35 percent of teachers in mathematics and 36 percent of teachers in reading reported being “quite confident.”

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