Each year standardized federal testing takes the temperature, so to speak, of how America’s nine-year-olds are faring in two critical skills; reading and mathematics. The age of these students puts them in the fourth grade and is widely believed as an indicator of how these children will do in high school and beyond.
This week’s preliminary results have come out ahead of the annual National Report Card that will come out later this year, and the numbers were not good.
Nevertheless, this is the first glimpse the country is getting of how badly shutting down schools during COVID and switching to remote learning negatively impacted children’s capacity to learn.
So, just how bad is it? Bad enough that not just parents should be paying attention.
Remember the shocking math and reading results yesterday? Here’s the crew that made it happen 👇 https://t.co/yleEsxLjMs
— Karol Markowicz (@karol) September 2, 2022
Two Steps Forward, Four Steps Back
We seem to keep setting the worst kinds of records in this country, with education leading the pack in disappointment. The results of the federal testing showed the most significant decrease in reading scores in 30 years and the first decrease in history for math since we began administering national testing in the 1970s.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), commonly referred to as our National Report Card, has been releasing results since 1969. Acting associate Commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics Daniel McGrath said of the dismal results:
“These are some of the largest declines we have observed in a single assessment cycle in 50 years of the NAEP program.”
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Mr. McGrath goes on to state:
“Students in 2022 are performing at a level last seen two decades ago.”
Think about that for a second. Essentially two years of COVID shutdowns nullified two decades of educational progress.
School shutdowns erased two decades of progress in reading and math.
Hold the lockdown politicians accountable in November.
— Andrew Pollack (@AndrewPollackFL) September 1, 2022
By The Numbers
Numbers generally don’t lie, and the ones in this preliminary report provide some hard truths. For example, since 2020, 9-year-old’s math results have decreased by 7%, and reading scores dropped by 5% on average.
Why should we care about these scores? Director of the Annennberg Institute at Brown University Susanna Loeb explains:
“Student test scores, even starting in first, second and third grade, are really quite predictive of their success later in school, and their educational trajectories overall.”
For some, the numbers might not fully encapsulate what this learning loss means. So to explain a bit further, the average decrease in the reading scores indicates that many 9-year-olds can partially understand what they read; however, fewer can infer a character’s feelings.
That’s speaking to the comprehension level of these kids if you can’t infer from reading the characters’ feelings that speak to your ability to comprehend complex emotion and, perhaps most alarming, empathy.
For math, the results indicate that students know simple arithmetic concepts, but fewer can add fractions with common denominators.
Fourth graders have posted the lowest test scores in 30 years. Despite the extremely poor performance in Math and Reading there is one bright spot. Students scored well on pronouns.
— Laughing Libertarian (@William16723077) September 2, 2022
Nobody Should Be Surprised
These results shouldn’t surprise anyone; you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that in-person learning will always trump remote learning, especially for the younger age groups. Even Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona isn’t surprised:
“That is very alarming. It’s disturbing, But it’s not surprising, keeping in mind a year and a half ago over half our schools were not open for full-time learning.”
And who advocated for the extended closure of school again? I’ll wait on that answer.
Even less surprising than the average decrease in scores is that minority groups and those in low-income areas were hit the worst. In math, for instance, white students, on average, saw their scores decrease by 5% from 2020, whereas black students plummeted by 13%.
It should be noted that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser requires D.C. students over 12 to be fully vaccinated before attending school this year, with no alternative for those who won’t or can’t get vaccinated. With only 53% of black students in D.C. in that age group vaccinated, it stands to reason that those students will continue to be adversely affected by poor policies.
When asked this week if the President believes his administration should shoulder any blame for these depressing results, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre did what she does best, blamed Trump:
“Let’s get back to where we were not too long ago, when this President walked into this administration, how mismanaged the pandemic the response to the pandemic was.”
However, Republican Congresswoman and ranking member of the House Education and Labor Committee Virginia Foxx believes someone else is to blame:
“President Biden, Randi Weingarten, and their Democrat counterparts across the country deserve equal blame for undercutting the educational pursuits of America’s children.”
However, the truth is the problem of educating America’s youth runs deeper and longer than just the last two years.
REPORTER: "9 year olds lost ground in both math and reading pretty dramatic ways…Does the administration shoulder any of the blame for not pushing schools to reopen sooner?"
KJP blames the Trump administration for having "mismanaged the pandemic." pic.twitter.com/Bi87akjSR7
— Townhall.com (@townhallcom) September 1, 2022
The Hard Reality
If you look at the data from previous years, the last decade has seen scores for reading and math plateauing, with the arrival of COVID a sharp decline. Given that there have been Republicans and Democrats in office over the last decade, the logical assumption can be made that neither party has really been hitting the mark on what it takes to elevate education in America.
With China outperforming our students in reading, math, and science, it should be a wake-up call that what we have been doing hasn’t been working in education. So what is the federal government doing to try to rectify this damage?
This is your reminder that China is #1 in reading and math scores, and America is #25.
So, while some folks play partisan politics with #CRT/#DEI/#SEL for personal gain, I’m gonna stay over here beating #EdPrep failure, #dysteachia, and #CurriculumFraud drums.#LiteracyIsEquity pic.twitter.com/E774hv3eAQ
— Marilyn Muller ~ #LiteracyIsEquity (@1in5advocacy) November 10, 2021
Throw money at the problem, of course. The federal government has budgeted $122 billion to help students recover from the learning loss caused by COVID lockdown policies.
However, with COVID stimulus money that was given to school districts still not spent, it’s hard to visualize how more money is the solution to a problem that has been brewing for a decade.
What Does Randi Have To Say?
One of the first Twitter accounts I looked at after hearing about the scores was none other than President of the American Federation of Teachers account Randi Weingarten, to see what she had to say about the bad news. Her response is pinned to the top of her Twitter feed:
“Thankfully after two years of disruption from a pandemic that killed more than 1 mil Americans, schools are already working on helping kids recover and thrive. This is a year to accelerate learning by rebuilding relationships, focusing on the basics.”
Thankfully after two years of disruption from a pandemic that killed more than 1 mil Americans, schools are already working on helping kids recover and thrive. This is a year to accelerate learning by rebuilding relationships, focusing on the basics https://t.co/FuqozCPONK
— Randi Weingarten ☮️🇺🇦🇺🇸 (@rweingarten) September 1, 2022
Interesting talk from someone who recently said conservatives are the enemy of educators and that Parental Rights Bills like the one proposed in Florida are ‘How wars start.‘ Perhaps if she and those within the education business focused more on education and less on social ideologies and political pandering, the next generation of Americans would be better prepared for adulthood.
Recently, I joined the co-founders of Moms For Liberty, a group taking on the failed public education system, to talk about it:
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