Reading and mathematics scores decline during COVID-19 pandemic

In 2022, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) conducted a special administration of the NAEP long-term trend (LTT) reading and mathematics assessments for age 9 students to examine student achievement during the COVID-19 pandemic. Average scores for age 9 students in 2022 declined 5 points in reading and 7 points in mathematics compared to 2020. This is the largest average score decline in reading since 1990, and the first ever score decline in mathematics.

This graphic contains two trend lines showing the average scores from the NAEP long-term trend reading and mathematics assessments from the early 1970s to 2022. The average scores were placed on a score scale ranging from 0-500 as the y-axis in the graphic with the assessment years as the x-axis. The first trend line is for the long-term trend reading assessment with 1971 as the first assessment year. The average reading scores were 208 in 1971, 220 in 2020, and 215 in 2022. The score of 215 in 2022 was higher than the score of 208 in 1971 but was 5 points lower than the score of 220 in 2020. The second trend line is for the long-term trend mathematics assessment with 1973 as the first assessment year. The average mathematics scores were 219 in 1973, 241 in 2020, and 234 in 2022. The score of 234 in 2022 was higher than the score of 219 in 1973 but was 7 points lower than the score of 241 in 2020.
* Significantly different (p < .05) from 2022.

This Highlights report compares performance on the NAEP long-term trend reading and mathematics assessments for age 9 students from the winter of 2020 to results of long-term trend assessments in the winter of 2022. Explore details about the long-term trend assessments and how they differ from main NAEP assessments. In addition, read the NCES Commissioner’s statement on schools and student learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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III. Deeper Dive into Remote Learning

Greater access to resources for higher performers learning remotely 

All students who took the long-term trend assessments in 2022 were asked if they ever attended school from home or somewhere else outside of school for any duration during the last school year (2020–21) because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Seventy percent of 9-year-old students recalled learning remotely during the last school year, while 19 percent reported they did not learn remotely, and 11 percent did not remember. Explore additional data on remote learning by select student groups, including region, school location, and race/ethnicity.  

Although comparisons in students’ performance shown below are made based on student, teacher, and school characteristics and educational experiences, these results cannot be used to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between the characteristics or experiences and student achievement. NAEP is not designed to identify the causes of performance differences. There are many factors that may influence average student achievement, including local educational policies and practices, the quality of teachers, and available resources. Such factors may change over time and vary among student groups.

Of the 70 percent of 9-year-olds who learned remotely during the 2020–21 school year, higher performers (those at or above the 75th percentile) had greater access to a desktop computer, laptop, or tablet all the time; a quiet place to work available some of the time; and a teacher available to help them with mathematics or reading schoolwork every day or almost every day compared to lower performers (those below the 25th percentile).

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Figure Percentage of 9-year-old students who recalled experiencing remote learning in 2020−21 school year in NAEP long-term trend reading, by selected percentiles and by selected survey questionnaire variables: 2022
70% of students recalled experiencing remote learning last school year. What supports did those students have?
Proportion of lower-performing students (below 25th percentile)
Proportion of higher-performing students (at or above 75th percentile)
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Higher performers overall more confident in their remote learning abilities

All students who took the long-term trend assessments were asked how confident they would be monitoring their own learning process if they hypothetically needed to attend school from home or somewhere else outside of school for their mathematics or reading class. Higher-performing students reported more confidence in their ability to recognize when they don’t understand something they are learning, ask for help when they need it, and find learning resources online to learn more about something they don’t understand compared to their lower-performing peers.

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Figure Percentage of 9-year-old students in NAEP long-term trend reading, by selected percentiles and by selected survey questionnaire variables: 2022
How confident were all 9-year-old students in their ability to learn remotely?
Proportion of lower-performing students (below 25th percentile)
Proportion of higher-performing students (at or above 75th percentile)
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IV. Explore More Long-Term Trend Data

Mathematics
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Average Score and Percentages
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All students
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V. More About the Age 9 Assessment Content and Sample

Since the 1970s, the NAEP long-term trend assessments have been administered to monitor the academic performance of students across three age levels (9-, 13-, and 17-year-old students). This report focuses on the comparison of age 9 students (typically in grade 4) between 2020 and 2022. A report summarizing results for 9-year-old students across all administrations back to the early 1970s will be released in the spring of 2023, along with results for 13-year-old students.