Drop in math and reading levels in the United States during the pandemic

The math and reading skills of elementary school children in the United States have fallen dramatically during the Covid-19 pandemic, especially among the most vulnerable students, according to the results of a national test conducted among children aged 9 year.

On a scale of 500, the general level of reading fell from 220 to 215, the biggest drop since 1990, while that of mathematics fell from 241 to 234, the biggest drop ever, according to the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), conducted among 14,800 students, the first nationwide since the pandemic, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Like everywhere else in the world, the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the American education system, with schools closed or only partially open and distance learning courses. The debates have also ignited in the country between Democrats and Republicans around the obligation for children to wear the mask in class.

rapid degradation

According to NCES Commissioner Peggy G. Carr, the decline in standards was already underway before the outbreak of the virus for the lowest performing students. “By 2020, for students who were struggling the most, long-term gains in reading had begun to be lostshe wrote in a text on the NCES site, adding that a similar trajectory could be seen in mathematics before the pandemic.

The disruptions of COVID-19 may have exacerbated many of the challenges we already faced. We know that the students who have the most difficulty have fallen further behind their peers“, she added. Thus, the level in mathematics went from 191 to 178 for the most struggling students, while the best performers only lost three points on the NCES scale (286 to 283). The results show that the level deteriorated faster among black students (225 to 212) than among white students (250 to 244).

According to this survey, 70% of the 9-year-old students surveyed had a distance school experience during the year 2020-2021. But the study still shows disparities according to the level of the students: thus, 83% of the most successful students said they had a computer or tablet available all the time, against 58% for the least successful.


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