The Pandemic Erased Two Decades of Progress in Math and Reading

ThorneStockton

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The results of a national test showed just how devastating the last two years have been for 9-year-old schoolchildren, especially the most vulnerable.


National test results released on Thursday showed in stark terms the pandemic’s devastating effects on American schoolchildren, with the performance of 9-year-olds in math and reading dropping to the levels from two decades ago.

This year, for the first time since the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests began tracking student achievement in the 1970s, 9-year-olds lost ground in math, and scores in reading fell by the largest margin in more than 30 years.

The declines spanned almost all races and income levels and were markedly worse for the lowest-performing students. While top performers in the 90th percentile showed a modest drop — three points in math — students in the bottom 10th percentile dropped by 12 points in math, four times the impact.

“I was taken aback by the scope and the magnitude of the decline,” said Peggy G. Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, the federal agency that administered the exam earlier this year. The tests were given to a national sample of 14,800 9-year-olds and were compared with the results of tests taken by the same age group in early 2020, just before the pandemic took hold in the United States.

High and low performers had been diverging even before the pandemic, but now, “the students at the bottom are dropping faster,” Dr. Carr said.

In math, Black students lost 13 points, compared with five points among white students, widening the gap between the two groups. Research has documented the profound effect school closures had on low-income students and on Black and Hispanic students, in part because their schools were more likely to continue remote learning for longer periods of time.

The declines in test scores mean that while many 9-year-olds can demonstrate partial understanding of what they are reading, fewer can infer a character’s feelings from what they have read. In math, students may know simple arithmetic facts, but fewer can add fractions with common denominators.

The setbacks could have powerful consequences for a generation of children who must move beyond basics in elementary school to thrive later on.

“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,” said Susanna Loeb, the director of the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, which focuses on education inequality.

“The biggest reason to be concerned is the lower achievement of the lower-achieving kids,” she added. Being so far behind, she said, could lead to disengagement in school, making it less likely that they graduate from high school or attend college.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress is considered a gold standard in testing. Unlike state tests, it is standardized across the country, has remained consistent over time and makes no attempt to hold individual schools accountable for results, which experts believe makes it more reliable.

The test results offered a snapshot for just one age group: 9-year-olds, who are typically in third or fourth grade. (More results, for fourth graders and for eighth graders, will be released later this fall on a state-by-state level.)

“This is a test that can unabashedly speak to federal and state leaders in a cleareyed way about how much work we have to do,” said Andrew Ho, a professor of education at Harvard and an expert on education testing who previously served on the board that oversees the exam.

Over time, scores in reading, and especially math, have generally trended upward or held steady since the test was first administered in the early 1970s. That included a period of strong progress from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s.

But over the last decade or so, student scores had leveled off rather than gained, while gaps widened between low- and high-performing students.

Then came the pandemic, which shuttered schools across the country almost overnight. Teachers taught lessons over Zoom, and students sat at home, struggling to learn online.

In some parts of the country, the worst of the disruptions were short lived, with schools reopening that fall. But in other areas, particularly in big cities with large populations of low-income students and students of color, schools remained closed for many months, and some did not fully reopen until last year.

The national tests, Dr. Ho said, tell the story of a “decade of progress,” followed by a “decade of inequality” and then the “shock” of the pandemic, which came with a one-two punch.

“It erased the progress, and it exacerbated the inequality,” Dr. Ho said. “Now we have our work cut out for us.”

He estimated that losing one point on the national exam roughly translated to about three weeks of learning. That means a top-performing student who lost three points in math could catch up in as little as nine weeks, while a low-performing student who lost 12 points would need 36 weeks, or almost nine months, to make up ground — and would still be significantly behind more advanced peers.
There are indications that students — fully back in school — have begun to learn at a normal pace once again, but experts say it will take more than the typical school day to make up gaps created by the pandemic.

The results should be a “rallying cry” to focus on getting students back on track, said Janice K. Jackson, who led the Chicago Public Schools until last year and is now a board member of Chiefs for Change, which represents state education and school district leaders. She called for the federal government to step up with big ideas, invoking the Marshall Plan, the American initiative to help rebuild Europe after World War II.

“That is how dramatic it is to me,” she said, adding that politicians, school leaders, teachers’ unions and parents would have to set aside the many disagreements that flared during the pandemic and come together to help students recover.
 

ThorneStockton

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“No more of the arguments, and the back and forth and the vitriol and the finger pointing,” she said. “Everybody should be treating this like the crisis that it is.”

But solutions may be rather basic, if difficult to carry out. Martin West, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a member of the National Assessment Governing Board that oversees the test, said that low-performing students simply needed to spend more time learning, whether it was in the form of tutoring, extended school days or summer school.

The federal government has budgeted $122 billion to help students recover, the largest single investment in American schools, and at least 20 percent of that money must be spent on academic catch-up. Yet some schools have had difficulty hiring teachers, let alone tutors, and others may need to spend far more than 20 percent of their money to close big gaps.

“I don’t see a silver bullet,” Dr. West said, “beyond finding a way to increase instructional time.”
 

Colonoscopy

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Oyy. Definitely fubared that. Wonder how much of a ripple effect that will have? Do we have any analogs for something like this?
 

Hawki97

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I wouldn’t blame it in the pandemic, but the policies around the pandemic.

All those policies focused around saving the most vulnerable (mostly old folk Boomers) ended up screwing a bunch of 9 year olds (Generation Alpha).

Amazing, those sneaky Boomer bastards found a way to bone yet another generation. Damn, well done. I tip my cap.
 

Joes Place

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The lockdowns caused this, not the pandemic. Many smaller\private schools didn't go nuts on locking down and continued with some modifications and students are on track with learning objectives.

You're referring to "schools that serve people with greater means" than the typical public education situation.
 

Hawki97

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The lockdowns caused this, not the pandemic. Many smaller\private schools didn't go nuts on locking down and continued with some modifications and students are on track with learning objectives.

I don’t doubt this - but do you know of any links or studies showing small / private schools have performed significantly better than public schools? I did a cursory Google search once and couldn’t find anything definitive. If you know of something definitive and could save me some time searching, I’d appreciate it.
 

ConvenientParking

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All those policies focused around saving the most vulnerable (mostly old folk Boomers) ended up screwing a bunch of 9 year olds (Generation Alpha).

Amazing, those sneaky Boomer bastards found a way to bone yet another generation. Damn, well done. I tip my cap.
Gen Z is followed by Gen Alpha? Are there really more friggin generations than hurricanes? We went from Lost Generation to Greek Alphabet in a century.
 
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Joes Place

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Wonder what the teacher shortages would look like now, if we'd just "let 'er rip" and had thousands more teachers die or end up incapable of teaching after the pandemic...
 
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hawkland14

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Wonder what the teacher shortages would look like now, if we'd just "let 'er rip" and had thousands more teachers die or end up incapable of teaching after the pandemic...
I think all can agree they needed to be shut down initially. This is where Reynolds, Noem, DeSantis should be praised(oprening in fall of 2020 even with the 'safety' noise that Union and lib politicians were claiming). But for some states to not open their school doors in the fall of 2020 was downright criminal. Mr. Lockdown like yourself should probably stay out of a thread like this. These are the direct results of the policies you advocated for. If anyone needs a reminder go back and read this thread from the summer of 2020.

 
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HawkOptimist

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Speaking of going nuts, check out what these poor bands students were put through during the pandemic….


221767
 

Joes Place

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I think all can agree they needed to be shut down initially. This is where Reynolds, Noem, DeSantis should be praised(oprening in fall of 2020 even with the 'safety' noise that Union and lib politicians were claiming). But for some states to not open their school doors in the fall of 2020 was downright criminal.

And yet, we probably have lots more teachers still alive and able to work, because of them.
 
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NDallasRuss

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Wonder how much of a ripple effect that will have?
Preface: I have no data to back this up; it's just my opinion.

I don't think there will be an appreciable long-term impact from this.

I think that parents who already took an active, involved role in their childrens' education continued to do so, and likely even increased their involvement. Those kids continued to be engaged, participative, and learned. These are the kids who largely turn out to be the high achievers who go on to become college successes and future leaders. They'll be just fine.

Similarly, I think that parents who were completely uninvolved in their childrens' education (whether by choice or necessity) continued to be uninvolved and left their kids alone in their rooms to pay attention to their online class, or not, and those kids fell behind. Some of those kids will catch back up and go on to be contributing citizens, and others will continue the downward slide to the point where they can't catch up and they drop out. A lot of those kids were going to drop out anyway. Most of them will go on to be low-wage earners, or criminals. These outcomes were going to happen anyway.

While some of it may be economic, a lot more of it is just effort. If it's a big enough deal for the parents to consistently show their kids that it's an important part of their lives, then the kids will see it as an important part of their live also. And if parents set high, but achievable, expectations for performance - and then put in the time and effort to support that performance - then the kids are going to see it not just as their goal, but as their responsibility. Conversely, if the parents clearly set the goal for kids to go stay in their room and online and don't come out", that's what the kids are likely to do.
 

Joes Place

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I guess this is the new talking point.
It's a reality.

We lost quite a few teachers during the pandemic. Would have been many more w/ in-person school.

And, despite minimizing exposures, we still have states scrambling to find teachers. Arguing it would not have been a worse situation with all "in schooling" is kinda silly.
 

FAUlty Gator

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Wonder what the teacher shortages would look like now, if we'd just "let 'er rip" and had thousands more teachers die or end up incapable of teaching after the pandemic...
Wouldn’t have lost as many as the number of suicidally depressed kids that were created by locking them out.
 

kcnole63

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All those policies focused around saving the most vulnerable (mostly old folk Boomers) ended up screwing a bunch of 9 year olds (Generation Alpha).

Amazing, those sneaky Boomer bastards found a way to bone yet another generation. Damn, well done. I tip my cap.
I won't speak for all boomers, but will speak for myself. Bless your heart.
 

SoDakHawk

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The lockdowns caused this, not the pandemic. Many smaller\private schools didn't go nuts on locking down and continued with some modifications and students are on track with learning objectives.
My 8 year old daughter just scored 99th percentile in reading and her spelling and word recognition are off the charts. My 6 year old is kicking butt in Kindergarten.

At the beginning of the pandemic (end of 2020 school year) our schools in SoDak went online. My kids didn't just get an early start on summer vacation. In fact, since they didn't physically finish out the year they had school every morning until noon until the 4th of July. ABC Mouse, Khan Academy, and other learning apps. The learning aids are out there.

I figure my kids will have an edge on the rest of them now. If you are a parent and didn't guide and educate your kids through this government made disaster then that is your own fault.
 
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obfuscating

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My 8 year old daughter just scored 99th percentile in reading and her spelling and word recognition are off the charts. My 6 year old is kicking butt in Kindergarten.

At the beginning of the pandemic (end of 2020 school year) our schools in SoDak went online. My kids didn't just get an early start on summer vacation. In fact, since they didn't physically finish out the year they had school every morning until noon. ABC Mouse, Khan Academy, and other learning apps. The learning aids are out there.

I figure my kids will have an edge on the rest of them now. If you are a parent and didn't guide and educate your kids through this government made disaster then that is your own fault.


rich brian spot on GIF by Spotify
 

Finance85

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You've argued against just about everything related to Covid science here.
No, I've actually argued for science, which means looking at all information and data to prove or disprove a hypothesis. You, on the other hand, jump to early conclusions based on what you want to be true, and never admit when you are wrong.

So you can't prove I said kids should mandated to be masked. You won't be able to. You'll also be able to find where I said that masks do have some limited value.

Would you like to talk about your projection of 2.5 million dead Americans in the first year?
 
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The smartest thing the drug companies did during all this was protect themselves from being sued. The day will come when we actually find ALL the side effects of this fear mongering.
 

Pinehawk

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I, of course, was telling people how much damage this would do to kids. But, most people at the time downplayed it saying that remote and hybrid learning was great. Maybe even better!

They were very wrong.

He won’t. $1,000 to the Children’s hospital. When it comes down to it, he knows that this past year sucked for everyone, regardless of how long they’ve been in-person or remote. Test scores will prove- it didn’t freaking matter.
 
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FAUlty Gator

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It's a reality.

We lost quite a few teachers during the pandemic. Would have been many more w/ in-person school.

And, despite minimizing exposures, we still have states scrambling to find teachers. Arguing it would not have been a worse situation with all "in schooling" is kinda silly.
My kids didn’t miss a day of in person school in the 2020-2021 school year or since and 100% of the teachers are still here and fine. Your fearmongering has been proven wrong all over the nation at private schools who haven’t missed a beat. Sorry.
 
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