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Report Finds That 9-Year-Olds’ Math and Reading Scores are Declining, Even More for Black Students

Elementary-aged children are learning in a classroom. Photo courtesy of 

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) conducted a special administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress long-term trend assessment in 2022 that conveyed the first drop in mathematics scores and highest fall in average reading scores since 1990 for 9-year-old children, revealing the exacerbating impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had on education.

Compared to 2020, 9-year-olds’ reading scores fell five points and their math scores fell seven points. Furthermore, the data showed that Black students’ reading scores fell by nine points and their math scores fell 15 points. Dr. Helen Bond, an associate professor of curriculum and instruction in the Howard University School of Education, is not surprised by the racial disparities the report revealed.

“Going into a crisis, you can see that students that were already performing poorly did worse, the vulnerable students. Looking at the 75th percentile, the students that were already doing well, their scores did not drop as precipitously as the others…What they found was not entirely unpredictable. Economics and equality play a big role,” Dr. Bond said. 

The Kaiser Family Foundation found that circumstances during the pandemic only became worse for families, especially multi-generational families, as they had to choose between prioritizing their health, income or children’s education. As a result, students and families were not able to acclimate to the sudden shift to remote learning that was enacted. Kenyon Anderson, a student at Meadowvale Elementary in Toledo, Ohio, was nine years old at the height of the pandemic and described his virtual learning experience as “horrible.”

“Everyone was always home and made it hard to focus on school. When my Titi [Aunt] had to go back to work, I didn’t feel like anyone was there to help me use the computer or help me with my hardest subject…She really helped me,” Kenyon said.

At the age of 9, children are developing foundational skills like critical thinking, reading for understanding and building social and emotional intelligence as reported by WebMD. According to McKinsey & Company, without a proper foundation, children become less likely to graduate high school and experience success gaps later in their academic careers. Kathryn Procope, the executive director of the Howard Middle School of Mathematics and Science, said that the new students walking into middle schools are now ill-prepared. 

“Students and teachers have been out of school for two years. And when they came back, no one gave any thought to some adjustments that needed to be made for students who have been home for so long…What we’re finding though is that there are a lot of fifth graders coming in and not having any of the fundamentals needed for them to be academically successful. So our sixth grade teachers have had to reach back into fifth grade or even fourth grade materials and re-teach,” Procope said.

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Dr. Peggy G. Carr, the first Black woman to hold the position of Commissioner of Education Statistics for NCES, says there is an urgent need for a solution that not only reverses the decline, but seriously addresses the conditions that existed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We’re finding from the data that there are more issues created in the aftermath [of the pandemic] that were built upon already existing issues…This is not business as usual. The first thing we need to do is put time on task in school learning. Students need more learning time to catch up with all the time that has been lost…Double dose tutoring or high-volume tutoring needs to happen where you’re focusing on the student’s individual needs,” Dr. Carr stated. 

Among the many other issues in the education system, there is hope that this report centralizes and mobilizes the public to get back to what really matters: children’s education and learning. 

Copy edited by Jadyn Barnett


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