NEW YORK – A recent federal government report has confirmed the fears of parents and educators that the COVID-19 pandemic had an adverse effect on younger students’ progress in reading and mathematics, though a deeper dive into the data reveals Catholic school students didn’t fall as far behind.
The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) published the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as the “Nation’s Report Card” on Oct. 24, revealing that the national average score declines in mathematics for fourth- and eighth grade students were the largest ever recorded in that subject, and reading scores across both grades fell to 1992 levels.
The national average mathematics score for fourth graders fell five points since 2019, when NAEP was last completed. The national average mathematics score for eighth graders fell eight points in that time.
In reading, the national average score for fourth graders fell three points since 2019, while the national average reading score for eighth graders fell three points.
Researchers generally consider a 10-point gain or drop as equivalent to roughly a year of learning.
In a statement accompanying the release of the report, NCES Commissioner Peggy Carr highlighted just how much of an impediment the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting shutdown were to students.
“The results show the profound toll on student learning during the pandemic, as the size and scope of the declines are the largest ever in mathematics,” Carr said. “The results also underscore the importance of instruction and the role of schools in both students’ academic growth and their overall wellbeing. It’s clear we all need to come together—policymakers and community leaders at every level — as partners in helping our educators, children, and families succeed.”
When broken down by school type the data paints a bit of a different picture. It shows that the scores of fourth and eighth graders attending Catholic schools dropped significantly less than their counterparts attending public and charter schools.
Catholic schools had a one-point improvement on average eighth-grade reading scores, while public and charter schools each lost three points. Similarly, the average fourth grade mathematics score for Catholic schools stayed even, while public and charter schools lost five and six points, respectively.
Catholic schools lost points in the other two categories, but less than public and charter schools.
The average eighth-grade mathematics score for Catholic schools fell five points. It fell eight points for public schools and nine points for charter schools. The average fourth-grade reading score for Catholic schools fell two points. Public and charter schools each lost three points.
Lincoln Synder, president of the National Catholic Educational Association, credited the results to the way Catholic schools nationwide responded to the pandemic.
“One of the reasons Catholic schools performed so well is that our teachers showed up for the kids. In every state, we were among the first to transition to distance learning, and after that brief time, also among the first to return students to a safe in-person environment,” Snyder said in a statement. “This is a proud moment for our Catholic schools, but we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. The nation’s top priority must be working together to help our kids grow and excel as we emerge from this pandemic.”
Since 1969, NAEP has been the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what students in public and private schools in the United States know and are able to do in various subjects. This year’s assessments were administered between January and March of 2022.
Participants in 2022 were public and private schools in all 50 states, Washington D.C., the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity schools, Puerto Rico (mathematics only), and 26 urban districts.
Kathleen Porter-Magee, an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the superintendent of Partnership Schools, a network of urban Catholic schools in the Bronx and Harlem in N.Y., and Cleveland, Ohio, noted in an assessment of the 2022 NAEP on social media that “if Catholic schools were a state, they’d be the highest performing in the nation on all four NAEP tests.”
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