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A new study shows a significant decline in both reading and mathematics scores for 9-year-olds in the U.S. since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The findings, from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), reflected a dip of 5 points in reading scores — the largest decrease in more than 30 years — and a decline of 7 points in math, marking the first-ever decrease in math scores.
"In mathematics, the 13-point score decrease among Black students compared to the 5-point decrease among White students resulted in a widening of the White−Black score gap from 25 points in 2020 to 33 points in 2022," the study also noted.
While the differences in math scores based on racial demographics were significant, "There were no significant score changes across the reported racial/ethnic student groups at this performance level in reading," according to the study.
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In a press release, NCES acting Associate Commissioner Daniel McGrath said that "students in 2022 are performing at a level last seen two decades ago."
"These are some of the largest declines we have observed in a single assessment cycle in 50 years of the [National Assessment of Educational Progress] program," McGrath noted.
NCES Commissioner Peggy Carr told USA Today that "the big takeaway" from the findings "is that there are no increases in achievement in either of the subjects for any student group in this assessment."
She added, "There were only declines or stagnant scores for the nation's 9-year-olds."
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Touching on the racial divide, Carr told USA Today, "The achievement gap between white and Black students widened in 2022 because Black students experienced a sharper decline in test scores than their White counterparts."
In the press release, Carr said the findings "paint a sobering picture," adding, "School shootings, violence, and classroom disruptions are up, as are teacher and staff vacancies, absenteeism, cyberbullying and students' use of mental-health services."
"This information provides some important context for the results we're seeing from the long-term trend assessment," she said.
According to the commissioner, "It's clear" that the COVID-19 pandemic "shocked American education and stunted the academic growth of this age group of children," she told USA Today.
"We don't make this statement lightly," Carr added.