NAEP Scores Are Out. Sure, Results Are Bad. But Now’s Not the Time for Handwringing
Today, the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) released national-, state-, and district-level scores for grades 4 and 8 in mathematics and reading. This data gives a comprehensive picture of how U.S. schools are serving students in 2022 — nationally, in each state, and in 26 of the country’s largest school districts. Yes, the results are concerning — showing declines in reading scores and significant declines in math scores for fourth and eighth graders since 2019. However, as we emerge from an ongoing pandemic, we see this as a rallying call to action for education leaders at every level to commit to investing in efforts that will accelerate student learning.
The NAEP data shows that students of color and students from low-income backgrounds in fourth grade had bigger declines in scores than other groups of students. In eighth grade, declines in scores for all student groups mean that wide and persistent racial and socioeconomic disparities remain and, in many cases, increased. The numbers confirm what many already know: that the unfinished learning these students are experiencing is a by-product of long-standing systemic inequities that were exacerbated by additional barriers to learning during the pandemic — with communities of color bearing the brunt of the health and economic shocks and loss of life from COVID-19.
This presents a widespread challenge: There are declines in scores in almost every state across the country, and no state (including D.C.) saw significant increases in either assessment or grade-level. Among the 26 districts that participated in the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA), there is a lone bright spot: Reading scores for eighth grade students in Los Angeles increased . But in the remaining districts, reading and math scores remained flat or declined, especially for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.
Coupled with data from statewide assessments, NAEP data is an important tool for understanding how our nation’s schools are educating students and how the pandemic has impacted learning, especially for the most underserved students. But we must pivot quickly from asking “What does the data say?” to “What will we do because of the data we see?” If every parent, teacher, education leader, and elected official in the country asks that second question — about the evidence-based practices we will put in place for the students and schools that the data shows are most in need — real change is possible.
The results released today may elicit some knee-jerk reactions from many education leaders. Some may want to turn to remediation strategies, or even retention (having students repeat a grade), hoping that by repeating large swaths of content from previous grades or curriculum that students will catch up. But we strongly advise against that. There is clear evidence that acceleration strategies, which help students develop missing skills and concepts so they can successfully engage with grade-level concept, is a much more effective strategy than remediation or grade retention.
With the right resources and supports — like a strong and diverse teacher workforce; positive school climates, rigorous, well-rounded, and empowering instruction, and targeted tutoring — all students can succeed. And states and districts now have additional resources, through the American Rescue Plan, to provide these supports and opportunities to students and begin to address long-standing educational inequities.
Federal, state, and district leaders must not just wring their hands — or worse — throw up their hands at the dismal numbers we see on paper. Now is the time for greater investments in proven strategies that accelerate students’ learning and that address the persistent inequities underscored in those numbers. Let’s get to work.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as The Nation’s Report Card, is the largest continuing and nationally representative assessment of what our nation’s students know and can do in subjects such as mathematics, reading, science, and writing. NAEP is the only assessment that allows us to compare results for all 50 states and DC, and for 26 urban districts across the country.