The drop in reading and math scores should serve as a wakeup call

By Sen. David Woodsome

AUGUSTA – Data released last month by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) showed an alarming trend regarding the proficiency of math and reading for the nation’s elementary school students. According to NCES, a division of the U.S. Department of Education, math and reading scores tabulated in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NEAP) for 9-year-old students fell substantially over the course of the pandemic.

Sen. David Woodsome – York

According to NCES, the data from what’s known as the “Nation’s Report Card” shows that reading scores saw the largest decrease in 30 years, while math scores had their first decrease in the testing regimen’s history. The NAEP has been collecting such scores for students aged 9, 13 and 17 since the 1970s, and the data released in September compared winter 2022 results to scores obtained in winter 2020.

The results from Maine classrooms were released this week, and the news isn’t any better, as scores dropped to the lowest point in the three decades they’ve been recorded.

When the pandemic began in March 2020, our school systems here in Maine closed and moved to a virtual learning model, an online synchronous learning format where students would log into a class live with the teacher who was conducting it. Other school districts that didn’t have this technology yet in place had to go with the more asynchronous, distance learning model where assignments are given virtually and teachers monitor student progress digitally.

The recent news, however, that America’s students fell behind in math and reading during the pandemic proves that despite all of the technology at our disposal and the best of intentions, the virtual education system failed.

Similarly, empirical evidence has shown that students who spent more time learning remotely during the 2020-2021 academic year lost the equivalent of months of learning, especially those now entering college. That’s twice as much as their peers who studied in person that year, and it affected Blacks and Hispanics disproportionately.

According to the study, the average math score for nine-year-old students in the aggregate fell seven percentage points in 2022 compared to 2020. For Black and Hispanic students, however, those scores slipped even further by 13 and eight points respectively versus five percent for white students. On average, reading scores fell by five points collectively.

It also depended upon where students lived. For those in urban areas, reading scores were rather flat while math dropped seven percent. Students living in suburban settings saw the greatest drops of eight and nine percent in reading and math scores respectively. And in rural areas where some remote learning models may be already in place for geographic reasons, both reading and math scores were evenly matched by a five percent drop.

The disruptions to student learning – and unfortunately their negative result – only underscore what many have called the divide between parents and educators and school administrators regarding what and how their children are learning. And yet this is not the only challenge facing our education system.

In fact, NCES Commissioner Dr. Peggy Carr cited other tolls the pandemic has taken on the nation’s school systems, including more students seeking mental health servicesabsenteeism by both students and teachers, school violence and teacher and staff shortages.

And while research released earlier this summer by the Oregon-based testing group NWEA showed that some students – especially those in elementary school – have regained some ground since the start of the pandemic, the achievement of the youngest learners who first began school during the pandemic lagged the most compared to pre-pandemic historical data.

This also presents us with our greatest opportunity for parents, teachers, school boards, administrators and Maine legislators to reset the paradigm, make the right investments and create a collaborative environment to help our students regain a learning gap that some unfortunately may never recover. For the sake of those kids who may have fallen behind, we at least have to try.

Our schools in Maine represent the best of our communities – I’ve seen this firsthand during my time on the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. Our students should expect the same from us.

Senator David Woodsome is a retired educator and represents Maine Senate District 33. He is the Senate Republican Lead for the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.

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