Early 2022 NAEP results show biggest learning loss in 50 years

A precipitative drop in both reading and math scores of the nation’s 9-year-olds has been documented in the results of the just released NAEP 2022 long-term trend (LTT) test.  This is the largest drop in test scores for reading since 1990 and the first ever decline in math scores. It is important to note that the LTT is not the same exam that is given to 4th and 8th graders in math and reading every two years.  Those results will be released in October, according to National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Commissioner Dr. Peggy Carr. That aside, the LTT scores are the first national indicator of what has been expected since pandemic-driven school closures: a significant learning loss occurred during the change to remote education, one that began in Kansas in April of 2020 which was manifested in lower student achievement in 2021.

The LTT has been given every two years to 9-year-olds since the early 1970s and continues to be a paper/pencil test. Dr. Carr mentioned that the questions in both reading and math are almost exactly the same now as they were back then, making long-term trends more applicable. Unfortunately, there is no statewide data from the LTT, only national. Also of note is that due to COVID, NCES chose to push back 2021 testing to 2022.

The following graphs provide a visual of the drop in the scores from 2020 to 2022. Dr. Carr was quick to point out that the decline is statistically significant, meaning they weren’t due to chance because of sampling.

Source: The Nation’s Report Card

Math scores were hit particularly hard. To wit:

  • The lowest performing group had the biggest reduction is performance: those scoring in the bottom 10% dropped 12 points from 2020, those scoring at the 25th percentile dropped 11 points from the previous test.
  • Math scores also declined for those in the 50th, 75th, and 90th percentile, meaning scores were lower across the achievement spectrum.
  • Black students declined more than other racial/ethnic groups. Blacks dropped 13 points, Hispanics dropped 8 points and Whites fell by 5 points.
  • The Black/White achievement gap increased from 25 points to 32 points.
  • Females dropped 8 points, males dropped 7 points.
  • Although LTT did not provide separate public/private scores, those in public schools dropped 8 points, which is higher than the decline for all students.

Reading scores also took a hit, but not as hard as math results.

  • Like in math, scores were lower across all performance levels.
  • Reading scores declined the same for Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics (6 points).
  • Both male and female students dropped by 5 points.

The income-based achievement gap also widened, as low-income students suffered a larger loss in both math and reading than non-low-income students as can be seen in the following graphic from the LTT report.

In reading, those eligible for free/reduced school lunches dropped 6 points while those not eligible dropped 3 points, increasing the achievement gap from 25 to 29 points. In math the achievement gap increased from 25 to 28 points.

Clearly, since the LTT reports only nationwide data, it’s too early to pass judgment on the Kansas results. However, the LTT is likely to be a foreshadowing of the “regular” NAEP results due out next month.  Also, those results should be out about the same time as 2022 state assessment scores, so a picture of the learning loss associated with school closures should emerge from the outcomes of those two assessments.