New 2022 NAEP Scores Paint Ugly Picture

The National Assessment for Education Progress (NAEP) scores for 2022 are out, and they are bad.

In Mathematics, scores for 4th graders dropped 5 points and 8th graders dropped 8 points. In reading, scores for 4th graders dropped 3 points and 8th graders dropped 3 points.

For a sense of perspective, scores in both Math and Reading have been growing (slowly and in fits and starts) since roughly the early 1990s. In 2022, Math scores are back to where they were in 2003 and Reading scores are back to 1992 levels.

The results were summarized well by Marty West, Academic Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education over at Rick Hess’s Education Week blog:

“The bottom line is that 4th and 8th grade reading and math NAEP scores are down from 2019 levels nationwide. They are down substantially. And they are down nearly everywhere: Every state (and the District of Columbia) saw scores drop by a statistically significant amount on at least one of the four tests administered this spring. The same is true for each of the 26 large urban school districts that participate in NAEP. And in those states or districts whose NAEP scores in a particular grade and subject were officially unchanged from 2019, scores were typically lower than they had been that year—just not by enough to achieve statistical significance. It is fair to say based on these results that there are very few school systems nationwide where students didn’t lose considerable ground over the course of the pandemic.”

Those who follow federal testing results might remember back in September when the results from the Long-Term Trend NAEP were released. They showed a drop of 5 scale-score points in reading (the largest drop since 1990) and a 7 scale-score point drop in Math (the first ever drop in NAEP Math scores).

The two NAEPs are different from one another. The Long-Term Trend assessment takes a random sample of American students and administers a test designed to track progress, as the name implies, over a long period. We have data for the Reading test from all the way back in 1971 and Math from 1973. The NAEP results released today came from a test given to a random sample of students in every state and in 26 large urban districts. It gives us a much richer picture of student performance state by state and large district by large district.

When we look at the state-level results, the picture is not pretty:

  • Forty-three states and jurisdictions (NAEP is administered in Puerto Rico and to students in Department of Defense schools) saw declines in 4th grade Math scores between 2019 and 2022, and 10 saw no significant change. Zero states saw an increase.
  • Fifty-one states and jurisdictions saw decreases in 8th grade Math scores, and two saw no significant change.
  • Thirty states saw decreases in 4th grade reading while 22 saw no change.
  • Thirty-three states saw 8th grade reading scores decreased, while 18 saw no significant change and one jurisdiction (the Department of Defense schools) saw an increase.

There is a tendency to use NAEP results as a bludgeon to advance one’s preferred set of educational changes. As soon as scores are released, social media is awash with “See, I told you so!” But trying to link NAEP scores to any one specific policy is challenging and rarely executed well.

It is not challenging, though, to conclude that the pandemic had a devastating impact on children across the country. We did our best here at EdChoice to highlight states and individual schools that were innovating and solving problems during the pandemic, but it is clear that that wasn’t enough. The tide was simply too strong.

We, as a nation, must redouble our efforts to improve our education system.

The slow progress that the system had made over the past several decades was fragile, something that I’m not sure we all appreciated. We need to think about ways to make durable changes. How can we make an education system that can deal with crises? How can we create structures and policies that will catch up students who fell behind during the pandemic? And how can we think about and mitigate the knock-on effects that the pandemic will continue to have as the children who experienced it work their way through school and into society?

Clearly, there is much work to be done.