Report: US Students' Math, Reading Scores Lowest in Decades

    Report: US Students' Math, Reading Scores Lowest in Decades
    Last updated Jun 22, 2023
    Image credit: Wikimedia Commons


    • On Wednesday, the release of the latest Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showed that math scores among US 13-year-olds have seen the largest drop since the assessments began in 1973. The news highlights already declining scores that were exacerbated by the pandemic.
    • In a national sample of 8.7K 13-year-old students, the average math scores fell nine points between 2020 and 2023, from 280 to 271. Reading scores fell four points from 260 to 256, out of a possible 500.
    • Two years after most students returned to in-person learning, there are still some signs of concern about student achievement, says Peggy G. Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics: "The 'green shoots' of academic recovery that we had hoped to see have not materialized."
    • Math and reading scores were already declining before the pandemic, but the latest results show a drop so great that earlier gains in the years leading up to 2012 have been erased. Scores on the math exam are at their lowest since 1990, while reading scores are at their lowest since 2004.
    • Math scores fell among all racial and ethnic groups except Asian Americans, with Native American, Black, and poor students faring especially badly. The drop could also be measured among both boys and girls, and among urban as well as rural students. Additionally, results showed fewer students saying they read for fun compared to a decade ago.
    • Education Sec. Miguel Cardona spoke optimistically in regard to the steps the administration is taking to combat the drop in academic achievement, as several states have returned to pre-pandemic levels on their state math and literacy assessments. Cardona says he is "encouraged that the historic [sic] investments and resources" will help reverse the decline.


    Republican narrative

    The impact of the school closures forced on students will have an irreversible effect on the next generation. Keeping schools open didn't have a noticeable impact on COVID infections, while school closures have clearly had an effect on child development in crucial years. The Biden admin. overrode common practice at the command of intransigent teachers' unions, and students are now paying the price.

    Democratic narrative

    The latest NAEP data is concerning not only because of the decline in students' learning across the country but more specifically because of the downward trend that shows that achievement plummeted across race, class, and geography. This is further evidence of an ever-increasing racial gap in education that will take years of effort and investment to address.

    Cynical narrative

    The NAEP results are routinely trotted out to advance political agendas by people with little understanding of what they actually mean. NAEP standards are much more stringent than state and local standards, where the data is more meaningful. Half of the students at a "basic" NAEP level end up receiving a Bachelor's Degree, indicating it is not an accurate measure of competency. Any decline is bad news, but we ought to be skeptical of any apocalyptic messaging based on these numbers.

    Nerd narrative

    There's a 50% chance that the average NAEP long-term trend mathematics score for 9-year-old students in 2029 will be at least 241.3, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

    Political split



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