National test scores plummeted for 13-year-olds, according to new data that shows the single largest drop in math in 50 years and no signs of academic recovery following the disruptions of the pandemic.

Student scores plunged nine points in math and four points in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often regarded as the nation’s report card. The release Wednesday reflected testing in fall 2022, comparing it to the same period in 2019 before the pandemic began.

“These results show that there are troubling gaps in the basic skills of these students,” said Peggy G. Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which administers the tests. The new data, she said, “reinforces the fact that recovery is going to take some time.”

The average math score is now the same as it was in 1990, while the average reading score is the same as it was in 2004.

The hardest hit were the lowest-performing students. In math, their scores showed declines of 12 to 14 points, while their highest-performing peers fell just six points. The pattern for reading was similar, with the lowest performers seeing twice the decline of the highest ones.

Students from all regions of the country and of all races and ethnicities lost ground in math. Reading was more split. Scores dropped for Black, multiracial, and White students. But Hispanic, Asian, American Indian, and Alaska Native students were described as “not measurably different.”


Most of those tested were 10 years old, in fourth or fifth grade, at the onset of the pandemic. They were in seventh or eighth grade as they took the tests.

“This is more than alarming,” said Carey Wright, former state superintendent of education in Mississippi and a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for the tests. “Thirteen-year-olds are in high schools, and their futures depend on being able to recover from this.”

“We really need to be concerned about what is happening here,” Wright said.

Mark Miller, a junior high school math teacher in Colorado who also sits on the governing board, similarly called for urgency. Researchers and policy analysts need to help identify the most effective practices for schools and teachers, he said. “It’s like the alarm has gone off,” he said.

The exams tested basic skills – multiplying a three-digit number by a two-digit number, for instance, or identifying a character’s feelings in a short reading passage.

They are designed to capture long-term trends, with the reading test going back to 1971 and the math exam back to 1973. After student progress for many years, their scores began to decline after 2012, with steeper drops after the pandemic’s onset.


“These latest results provide additional evidence of the scale, the pervasiveness, and the persistence of the learning loss American students experienced as a result of the pandemic,” said Martin West, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and member of the governing board.

West pointed out that many students had been attending school entirely in person for just over a year when the tests were given – and had not yet experienced the full benefit of a second in-person school year.

“One of the things they [the results] tell us is that the period of recovery that we all know is needed hadn’t begun by the start of the 2022-23 school year,” he said.

Many school districts around the country launched academic interventions in 2022-2023, including high-dosage tutoring. But researchers have said that the scale of interventions is far less than the need in many places.

Carr said the data, combined with that from earlier testing, showed “signs of risk for a generation of learners.” The first backslide was reported last September, with results for 9-year-olds nosediving to levels unseen in decades.

She cautioned that the results were national in scope and that various state and local results could be different. Carr and others have said the academic decline is part of a broader picture that includes worsening school climate and student mental health.


The national sample of 13-year-olds included 8,700 students from 460 schools in each subject, according to the NCES, part of the Education Department. More than 80 percent of the schools tested in 2019-2020 were tested again in 2022-2023.

The share of students who reported “never” or “hardly ever” reading for fun jumped by 9 points, to 31 percent.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona weighed in on the results in a statement, saying the administration has long recognized it would take “years of effort and investment” to make up for the toll of the pandemic and “the 11-year decline that preceded it.”

School systems have committed nearly 60 percent of covid relief funds to efforts that advance academic recovery, he said, including teacher hiring, tutoring, and high-quality after-school and summer programs. Several states are returning to pre-pandemic achievement levels on state tests, he said.

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