ANALYSIS: NAEP Results Provide More Proof That Pandemic School Policies Caused Severe Damage

The results of the standardized tests are bleak.
Frustrated Elementary School Girl Wearing Face Mask
Photo: Allison Shelley/EDUimages

Within one month of the global onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, 188 countries around the world closed schools nationwide, which affected more than 1.5 billion learners; approximately 91% of students across the globe were impacted. Since then, teachers, policymakers, parents, and even students have speculated how the pandemic response would impact learners across the world. As early as July 2020, experts estimated that the few months of learning loss could add up to $10 trillion in labor earnings over the work lives of students enrolled in American schools. The impact of continued pandemic evasion measures has only escalated these estimates.

Speculation on the short-term impact of pandemic-related policies on test scores has just begun. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Report Card was released today and it showed a dramatic decline in math and reading scores nationwide. Between virtual learning and the proliferation of politics in the classroom, this report is a wake-up call for parents, teachers, administrators, and policymakers.

Although lower scores and decreased turnout on standardized college entrance exams like the ACT showed some early indications of a nationwide learning problem, the NAEP report card highlights the major impact the pandemic may have had on measurable learning outcomes for primary and secondary-aged students.

Results published today included math and reading scores for both fourth and eighth-grade students enrolled in primary schools during the 2021-2022 school year. The test was administered between January 10 and March 18 of this year.

Fourth graders would have been in second grade when the pandemic hit, with only two and a half years of formal education under their belts. Eighth graders would have been in sixth grade in 2020; not one of their middle school years was untouched by pandemic policies.

The results of the standardized tests are bleak. Although some distinctions can be drawn between rural and urban areas, not one state or jurisdiction improved on math and reading levels for both the fourth and eighth grades. In 2022, the average reading score for both fourth and eighth grade decreased by 3 points compared to 2019. Even worse, the average math scores across the nation were lower by 5 points at the fourth-grade level and lower by 8 points at the eighth-grade level compared to 2019.

Although the NAEP notes that “these results cannot be used to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between the characteristics or experiences and student achievement,” there is no other major variable that would have uniformly decreased testing scores across the nation.

Erika Sanzi, Director of Outreach for Parents Defending Education noted that “This plunge in academic outcomes was predictable because people in positions of power allowed teachers unions and other fear mongering influencers to put children last. We knew prolonged school closures and masking would have catastrophic effects on children. And now we have more evidence that they did.”

No matter how the data is interpreted, the report does not fare well for academic institutions or policymakers across the country.

“These numbers prove that American parents’ concerns about their children’s education during the pandemic weren’t speculative – but in fact, perfectly valid. American students were the subject of a years-long social experiment that will impact our country’s economy for decades to come. It’s time to hold the education bureaucrats, activists, and public health officials who mocked, shamed, and derided families accountable for their decisions – and refuse to cede them any further authority (or funds) going forward,” said Nicole Neily, President of Parents Defending Education.

The NAEP was first administered in 1969, during the American “Space Race,” which may have positively benefited the American education system, according to some historians. The 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 brought on similar attention to educational institutions by policymakers; the No Child Left Behind Act called for increased scrutiny of American schools and mandated that the “Nations Report Card” be overseen and administered by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences.

Perhaps our most recent national emergency (the COVID-19 pandemic and its surrounding policies), will result in calls for renewed attention on our students, schools, and education policies.

Juliana Sweeny
Juliana Sweeny is a high school history and biblical studies teacher in Loudoun County, Virginia. She is also the executive producer for the Teacher’s Lounge podcast.

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