As Expected, Black and Brown Students Bore the Brunt of Pandemic-Related Education Declines

In its 2022 report card, the National Center for Education Statistics is sharing some of the biggest declines in proficiency since the 1990s. The Biden administration says funding, research, and collaboration are crucial.

Black woman teacher supporting students in the classroom
Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images GettyImages-1049282154.jpg . Photo:

Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images GettyImages-1049282154.jpg  

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) just released its first national report card in three years and the results suggest that the pandemic had a devastating impact on math and reading outcomes for most students. It also further limited access for Black students and others impacted by historical discrimination and limited access to quality education. 

The report card, formally known as The National Assessment of Educational Progress, is a congressionally-mandated program overseen by the NCES within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences. It is typically done every two years.

Across the nation, math and reading achievement declined considerably for fourth and eighth-grade students, especially when compared to 2019. In 2022, the average fourth-grade math score decreased by 5 points to its lowest level since 2005. The average eighth-grade math score fell 8 points to its lowest level since 2003. 

The NCES is calling this the largest score decline in fourth and eighth-grade mathematics since initial assessments in 1990

Reading scores decreased, though not as drastically. Fourth and eighth-grade reading scores dropped by 3 points compared to 2019 and were their lowest since 2005. Eighth-grade scores were their lowest since 1998.

"We know that we have to be very clear in focusing on academic acceleration in supporting the social, emotional, and mental health and well-being of our students," said Roberto Rodríguez, U.S. Department of Education Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development on a call with Kindred by Parents. "And making sure that our students have the educator that they need, as the head of their classrooms, as one of the single most important resources we can give them helping to support their success in school.

In addition to the declines in math and reading scores, fewer fourth graders were generally performing at or above NAEP Basic levels than in 2019. Though Black fourth graders’ general performance did not decline this year, Black students are still the lowest percentage at or above proficient in fourth and eighth-grade reading.

This isn’t completely unexpected. In September, the NCES released the Long-Term Trend Assessment Results for Reading and Mathematics, exploring how the pandemic impacted reading and math schools for 9-year-olds. The results show an average 5-point decline in reading and a 7-point decline in math compared to 2020, which the organization is calling the largest average score decline in reading since 1990. It's also the first-ever recorded decline in mathematics.

Secretary Rodríguez says the Biden administration is partnering with states to develop the necessary research and support initiatives, tutoring, and after-school programs, along with prioritizing collaboration between parents and schools to support student achievement and improve outcomes. He named Kentucky and Oklahoma examples of states that have developed local initiatives to address local student needs and teacher shortages. Still, Black and brown communities might wonder what targetted support is available as they navigate post-pandemic challenges and historically educational inequity. 

The 2019 report card also shows that math and reading continue to be crucial areas of concern for Black and brown students, especially when compared with white students.

This year's report card reveals a 13-point score decrease in math among Black students compared to the 5-point decline among white students. The decrease resulted in a larger score gap between white and Black students nationally—from 25 points in 2020 to 33 points in 2022. 

Rodríguez didn't have specific answers about national efforts providing targeted support to Black communities in improving literacy and math scores. But he validated concerns of an inequitable education system that didn't support all students. And mentioned Chicago as a district that's made strides in reducing educational inequity for Black and brown students. 

"We had opportunity gaps and inequities in our system prior to the pandemic that have been exacerbated across the course of this great disruption," says Rodríguez. But even districts that have seen progress, like Chicago Public Schools, saw dips in math during the pandemic.

Secretary Rodríguez says funding and collaboration between the federal government, parents, and educators can address many of these concerns impacting students. Still, Black parents and caretakers may feel overwhelmed identifying household solutions to structural issues. Black and brown communities are disproportionately impacted by teacher shortages, rising costs of living, and historical discrimination are barriers that limit access to quality education.

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