A new study published Thursday by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) indicated that 9-year-old students in the United States suffered steep declines in math and reading scores during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The NCES report appears to validate concerns over the considerable “learning loss” experienced by students as a result of policy decisions like school closures and remote learning instruction in the first two years of the pandemic.
The release of the data comes as the vast majority of kids in the country have already returned or are heading back to school for in-person instruction.
The study found that the average scores for 9-year-old students declined by seven points in math and five points in reading. While the declines are in the single digits, they are virtually unprecedented.
The dip in reading scores has not been seen since 1990, and the drop in math is the first ever decline recorded by the NCES since at least 1973.
The declines are essentially significant deviations from otherwise steady year-over-year improvements documented since the 1970s.
“These are some of the largest declines we have observed in a single assessment cycle in 50 years of the [National Assessment of Educational Progress] program,” said Daniel McGrath, acting NCES associate commissioner. “Students in 2022 are performing at a level last seen two decades ago.”
The declines were apparent throughout all regions of the country, and Texas was no exception.
In 2019, 78% of Texas students received a score of “approaching grade level” on their STAAR tests across all grades and all subjects. In 2021, following the pandemic, that percentage fell to 67%. Meanwhile, in Dallas ISD, 2019’s rate of 73% fell to 60% after the pandemic.
On the reading STAAR test taken in third grade, when many students are around 9 years old, 72% of DISD students were “approaching grade level,” compared to 76% in the state. In 2021, only 61% of DISD students received this score, compared to the statewide rate of 67%.
On the third-grade math STAAR, 77% of DISD students were “approaching grade level” in 2019, while the rate was 79% in the state. For 2021, DISD’s numbers fell drastically, dropping to 59%, below the state average of 62%.
While the Lone Star State did improve in some categories, only 25% of its school districts and 33% of its campuses managed to get back on track in 2022 to score higher than their 2019 letter grade, according to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and its accountability report cards.
Some 42 Texas school districts and more than 550 individual campuses were unofficially designated as failing by the TEA for the 2021-2022 school year, with some performing significantly worse than in 2019.