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13-year-olds see largest ever drop in math scores; reading levels sink to 1975 average

NCES Commissioner said the pandemic potentially "accelerated" the drop.

Published: June 21, 2023 4:27pm

Updated: June 21, 2023 8:00pm

Students aged 13 years old have had a never-before-seen decline in math skills as well as a notable downfall in reading, according to a brand new data assessment from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

The Nation’s Report Card’s Long-Term Trend data found that students in 2023 tested in mathematics on par with the average score from 1990, the "largest declines ever recorded" in math, according to the NCES press release. Reading levels for 2023 were just a point above the average in 1971, and came out as the same average (256) scored in 1975.

From 2012-2020, reading skills dropped a total of three points. That number has fallen by four additional points in the last three years alone. Mathematics skills declined five points in the former span, and plunged a whopping nine points in the three years after.

A statistician for NCES, Grady Wilburn, told Just the News it’s "fair to say" things like lockdowns and lack of resources could bear blame for "some of the declines," but not all, since "both math and reading were experiencing declines pre-Covid." NCES Commissioner Peggy Carr also said in a Zoom press conference that the COVID-19 pandemic "may have accelerated" the decline.

Commenting additionally in a press release on the test scores, Carr said the so-called “‘green shoots’ of academic recovery” the department was hoping for “have not materialized, as we continue to see worrisome signs about student achievement and well-being more than two years” post-schools' reopening.

The results also detailed score declines by race and sex. Boys and girls were both negatively impacted across “all regions of the country” and “all school locations.” Decreases varied from six points to 20 points between white students and American Indian/Alaska Native students, respectively.

Education Department Press Secretary Miguel Cardona issued a statement on the results saying it's "further evidence" of the pandemic's consequences, but went on to claim he's "encouraged" to see "historic" financial investments in the education system that are "beginning to show positive results" in some areas.

"More action is needed at every level to reverse decades of educational neglect and to Raise the Bar for all students," Cardona said, seemingly downplaying the NAEP scores.

Defense of Freedom Institute's co-founder, Jim Blew, expressed serious dismay towards Cardona's remarks in response, explaining that "throwing" money at the issue is not the solution.

"Americans should be appalled by all the happy-talk from ED surrounding the release of these NAEP results," he told Just The News. "Rather than develop real plans to remediate the huge learning losses, they merely advocate throwing more federal dollars at local school unions and districts, as if that will help students."

Instead, he continued, "taxpayers and families should demand real change--more education freedom and more accountability for failed performance. "

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