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Students falling behind in math, on track in reading, new study finds

Lack of data on poor and minority students, who were disproportionately missing from the assessment. raises concerns.

Updated: December 2, 2020 - 1:36pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

A fall assessment given to about 4.4 million students in grades 3-8 has found that math scores are down on average 5-10 percentile points compared to an average year.

The assessment by the nonprofit educational group NWEA also showed third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students had the largest drops in math scores.

The assessment, or test, was given to examine student proficiency in key subject areas. With a year full of school shutdowns and online learning, scores were expected to drop due to the COVID-19 disruptions. 

The exam, administered to some students in person and some remotely, showed that students have gained skills in math and reading. However, the math achievement was lower than in a typical year. Students scored better than projected in reading, keeping on track with grade levels.

"The results tell a less rosy story in math: Student achievement was 5 to 10 percentile points lower than the pre-COVID-19 performance by same-grade students last fall, and students showed lower growth in math across grades 3 to 8 relative to peers in the previous, more typical year," the NWEA research summary said.

There was a lack of data on poor and minority students, who were disproportionately missing from the assessment due to being "absent from school and/or opting out of testing for economic, health, technological, or other reasons unknown to educators and researchers," the report stated. "A sizable population of the most vulnerable students were not assessed in fall 2020, and their achievement is not reflected in the data as a result."

Among the larger concerns are whether the minority students will fall far behind peers in private schools and religious schools, many of which are allowing at least some in-class learning during the pandemic.