No academic improvement seen in 13-year-olds post-school lockdowns.

America’s 13-Year-Olds Struggle with Academic Recovery

America’s 13-year-olds are showing no signs of academic recovery from school lockdowns, as new federal data report math and reading scores at the lowest levels in decades.

According to new National Assessment of Educational Progress data published Wednesday, the math scores of the young teenagers, who are mostly in eighth grade, dropped nine points between the 2019-2020 and 2022-2023 school years, which a NAEP press release called “the largest declines ever recorded.”

Reading scores declined by four points over the same period, with the lowest-performing students scoring lower than they did in 1971 when the data first started being collected.

Concerns about Student Achievement and Well-being

“The ‘green shoots’ of academic recovery that we had hoped to see have not materialized, as we continue to see worrisome signs about student achievement and well-being more than two years after most students returned for in-person learning,” Peggy G. Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics which administers the NAEP testing, said in a press release. “There are signs of risk for a generation of learners in the data we are releasing today and have released over the past year.”

Academic decline persisted for years before the coronavirus pandemic saw elected officials shut down schools and implement mask mandates and “virtual learning.” However, those policies have proven to be particularly destructive to the academic achievement of schoolchildren.

Thirteen-year-olds, whose academic development is compared to their testing results at 10 years old, scored on average 271 out of 500 and 256 out of 500 in reading, down from 280 and 260 three years ago, respectively.

Confirmation of Parents’ Concerns

“Throughout the pandemic, families expressed concerns that their children weren’t learning — and were mocked, shamed, and derided for speaking out,” Nicole Neily, founder and president of Parents Defending Education, told the Washington Examiner. “These scores confirm parents’ worst fears and further underscore that families do indeed know their children’s needs — and that traditional education power brokers never had students’ best interests at heart in the first place.”

For both math and reading, students who were in the lower percentiles three years ago saw more significant declines than those in higher percentiles, which tracks with the phenomenon that students who were already in need of academic assistance continue to sustain the worst damage.

Scores declined among most demographics of students in math, which ranged from a six-point drop to a 20-point drop.

Disproportionate Declines Among Demographics

The most significant decline was seen among American Indian/Alaska Native students, who recorded a 20-point drop from the 2019-2020 school year to the 2022-2023 academic year. That decline was followed by black students at 13 points, Hispanic students at 10 points, and white students at 6 points. Asian students did not report a significant decline.

For reading, some demographics declined while others stagnated.

Reading Declines and the Importance of Leisure Reading

Black students recorded the steepest decline in reading, seeing a seven-point drop, while white students declined by four points. Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Asian students did not record measurably different scores.

While students who reported reading for fun tended to score higher, the percentage of students who reported “never or hardly ever” leisure reading jumped from 22% in 2012 to 31% in 2023.

“Aside from its academic effects, reading opens the mind and the heart to new ways of seeing and thinking about the world,” Carr said. “Many of our young people will never discover latent passions or areas of interest without reading broadly on their own time.”

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) said the test scores show that shutting schools caused “massive harm” to children.

Call for School Choice

“Students are entering high school who cannot read,” Cassidy said in a press release. “This is intolerable. Parents should have the power to place their child in a school which is most likely to address the child’s educational need. These scores make the case for school choice better than any other argument.”


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