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  • Susan Stoderl

The "Nation's Report Card" is Failing Reading and Math (Yet Again)

Failing at Reading and Math
National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)

National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), nicknamed the Nation’s Report Card, is an assessment given to students to test their mathematics and reading skills every two years. The 2024 Assessments in reading and mathematics will take place for grades 4, 8, and 12 during the winter of 2024. The latest assessment occurred in the winter of 2022.

The pandemic caused significant setbacks, but there was hope that results would improve again. This didn’t happen. In 13-year-old (eighth grade) students, average math scores fell by 9 points between 2020 and 2023. Reading scores fell by 4 points. The tests for fourth and eighth graders were similar.

The sliding math and reading scores before the pandemic erased all the gains that had been given since 1973, until 2012. Math scores are at their lowest levels since 1990, with reading scores at their lowest since 2004. Most alarming was that stronger students saw slides of 6 to 8 points, however, the lower performing students saw decreases of 12 to 14 points.

Almost every race and ethnicity saw math scores slide, but the steepest drops were among American Indian students, at 20 points, and Black students, at 13 points. White students declined by 6 points, while Asian students held even. Again, the scores reflect the disproportionate impact of the pandemic’s disruptions on Black and Latino students and those from low-income families.

The U.S. government has spent billions of dollars to help students catch up in 2021, but the 13-year-olds, age 10, during the pandemic are still struggling. This will take years to address.

It is important to note that these tests are not excessively difficult. They have the student read a passage and then identify the main idea or locate certain information. Math consists of performing simple multiplication and basic geometry, such as the area of a square. 

The outlook for American students is not promising. Sixty-six percent of American 12th graders are only “basic” or “below basic” readers. Only thirty-seven percent reach the minimal level or excel at math and reading to qualify for taking entry-level college courses.


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