In a disappointing but not unexpected development, U.S. standardized test scores are showing a notable ongoing learning loss. Results from the National Center for Education Statistics indicate that average scores for age-nine students in 2022 fell significantly compared to 2020. The five-point drop in reading, from 220 to 215 on a scale of 500, was the largest average score decline since 1990. In math, scores fell for the first time ever – seven points (from 241 to 234).
To make matters worse, students who were the most vulnerable were hit particularly hard. Scores are reported by percentile group to show progress of lower- (10th and 25th percentiles), middle- (50th percentile), and higher- (75th and 90th percentiles) performing students. In 2022, reading and mathematics scores for students in all five groups were below those in 2020. However, in both reading and math, scores for lower-performing students dropped more than those for the higher-performing groups.
Age nine is a particularly important milestone moment for students; if they aren’t reading at grade level at that point, almost every subject becomes increasingly difficult going forward. From social studies concepts to word problems in math, literacy skills become more crucial every school year beyond that point.
A variety of remediation approaches are being implemented across the country, and outcomes are being carefully monitored in an effort to optimize responses. It’s going to take both public and private investment, and years will likely be required to regain the ground lost during the pandemic and its aftermath.
Nonetheless, the importance of recovery from learning losses during the pandemic and continued forward progress can hardly be overstated. From both individual well-being and economic progress perspectives, work and life in the future will be increasingly complex, and literacy skills and education are essential to sustained success. The United States already lagged some competitor nations prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, and this lingering decline is a decided disadvantage. Skilled workers are the currency of future expansion, and enhanced educational attainment is essential.
In Texas, there was actually a bit of good news in some recent scores. Spring 2022 State of Texas assessments show across-the-board improvements in all grades and subjects from 2021. In fact, reading outcomes even surpassed pre-pandemic levels. Math scores aren’t all the way back yet, but the trend was decidedly upward. Clearly there remains much work to do but hats off to the educators across the state who have gone above and beyond to help Texas students begin to regain lost ground.
While the day-to-day effects have lessened for now, the fallout from the massive disruption of the recent past lingers. Continued competitiveness and economic growth depend critically on the challenges of overcoming the learning losses. Stay safe!
Dr. M. Ray Perryman is President and Chief Executive Officer of The Perryman Group (www.perrymangroup.com), which has served the needs of more than 2,500 clients over the past four decades.