The pandemic was particularly hard on school-age children. The results of online learning show that 4th and 8th graders declined in reading skills and experienced the largest decline in math ever. A national educational assessment shows the devastating impact the pandemic had on children.

An assessment by the National Assessment of Educational Progress on reading and math exams, often referred to as the Nation’s Report Card, was conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, a branch of the Education Department. Secretary Miguel Cardona said the report will officially be released Monday. He briefed reporters on Friday.

“The results of today’s Nation’s Report Card are appalling and unacceptable,” US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said Friday during a briefing before the report’s release official on Monday.

“This is a moment of truth for education. How we respond to this will determine not only our recovery but our nation’s standing in the world.”

Add the epic failures of the teacher unions and the Department of Education to the growing list of crises ushered in by the Biden administration. The unions insisted that school children remain home and out of classrooms for as long as they could. Teachers were moved to the front of the line, classified along side of first responders, to be given the COVID-19 vaccine when it became available. Classrooms were retrofitted with plexiglass barriers and supplied with safety measures like hand sanitizer stations to keep children and teachers safe at school. Children had to social distance themselves from classmates, wear masks, and some even had to eat lunch outdoors, even in cold weather, to allegedly stay safe. Teacher unions fought as long as they could to keep the children learning at home online. It was always unnecessary and a recipe for disaster.

This was the first national assessment of student achievement in three years due to the pandemic. The first initial assessment was taken in 1990. The tests were administered between January and March. The results are devastating.

No state or large urban district showed improvements in math, the report said. Eighth-grade math scores sank in the more than 50 states and jurisdictions that participated in the assessment. The last report card was issued in 2019, before the start of the pandemic in the US, where schools were shut down and teachers turned to online learning.

“Eighth grade is that gateway to more advanced mathematical course taking,” Carr told reporters before the report’s release. “This is what these students are missing. They’re missing these important skills that will prepare them eventually for (science, technology, engineering and math) level careers.”

The average math score of 236 for the fourth grade was 5 points lower than in 2019, and 8 points below the 2019 mark of 274 for the eighth grade. The reading score of 217 for the fourth grade was down 3 points this year – the same decline as the eighth grade score of 260 – compared to 2019.

The discouraging results come more than a month after NAEP released results showing that math and reading scores for 9-year-olds – typically fourth graders – fell between 2020 and 2022 by a level not seen in decades.

The pandemic was hard on all children but hit the hardest on lower-performing students. There are noticeable declines among racial and ethnic groups.

Scores on the eighth-grade math exams declined across most racial and ethnic groups as well as for lower, middle and high performing students. Fourth-grade math scores dropped for all racial and ethnic groups except native Hawaiian-Pacific Islanders.

The gaps between White students and Black and Hispanic students were larger in 2022 than three years ago, with greater score declines in math for Black and Hispanic students further widening those gaps.

“What we’re seeing is (lower performing) students … dropping even faster and we’re also seeing students who were not showing declines – students at the top, meaning students at the higher performing levels – they were holding steady before the pandemic or even improving,” Carr said. “Now all the students, regardless of their ability, are dropping. That is the point we need to be taking away from this report.”

The math exams reflected the performance of 116,200 fourth-graders in 5,780 schools, and 111,000 eighth-graders in 5,190 schools. The reading tests were given to 108,200 fourth-graders in 5,780 schools and 111,300 eighth-graders in 5,190 schools.

An attempt is being made to downplay the effect online learning had on test scores. NCES Commissioner Peggy Carr said lower-performing students were holding their own, many even improving before the pandemic. Now all students are dropping. That, to me, indicates that online learning was a dismal failure across the board. The longer kids were out of classrooms, the worse it had to have gotten for their learning progress. “There’s nothing in this data that tells us that there is a measurable difference in the performance between states and districts based solely on how long schools were closed,” Carr said. How is that information comforting to any parent?

Carr does come to one conclusion that I agree with – math is not easy to teach for many people. There is no substitute for a good teacher. Reading is a little easier to teach and parents are more comfortable with teaching reading than teaching math. She says more analysis is needed to understand how the pandemic played into the declines in scores. She also points to teacher shortages and bullying. Wait, bullying? I’m not a professional educator but I am a parent. It seems to me that it was entirely predictable that children being forced to stay home and use online learning to keep up with their school work were going to fall behind. There is no substitute for one-on-one interaction with teachers in classrooms. Teachers can monitor the progress of students in a classroom and determine if the students are really grasping concepts, especially in a subject like math.

“This must be a wake-up call for the country that we have to make education a priority,” Beverly Perdue, former governor of North Carolina and chair of the National Assessment Governing Board that oversees the test, said in a statement.

The social aspect of everyone being locked down at home during the pandemic can not be ignored. Children suffered from loneliness and isolation, which affect their mental health and their ability to learn.

It will take years for children to catch up, if ever. Not all parents will be able to hire tutors or get extra help for their children to make up for lost time. Adults in charge failed an entire generation of children. Homeschooling is not easy, even under the best of circumstances. Not every family can do it. This assessment should not be a surprise, instead a confirmation of what we suspected all along.

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