The student test scores tracked by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the Nation’s Report Card, and released this week are just as disastrous as expected.
Over the past two years, fourth-grade and eighth-grade students’ mathematics scores suffered the biggest decline ever recorded, with fourth-grade scores declining by 5 points and eighth-grade scores dropping by 8 points. Just 26% of eighth graders are now able to perform math proficiently.
In reading, both fourth-grade and eighth-grade students’ scores dropped by 3 points.
The immediate reaction by education experts and most in the media has been to blame this abysmal lapse in reading and mathematics proficiency on the pandemic — as if the pandemic is an agent of its own that left the actual people in charge with no choice but to watch as students fell behind. “Student test scores fall across the country showing ‘clearest picture yet’ of the troubling impact of the pandemic on achievement,” reads one headline from the Washington Post. National Center for Education Statistics Chairwoman Dr. Peggy Carry similarly claimed that “there is nothing in [the NAEP’s data] that allows us to draw a straight line from remote learning to student performance.”
This is nonsense. There is, in fact, a statistically significant correlation between school closures and poor test scores, as this chart illustrates. The chart, drawn by Harvard University’s Martin West, shows student scores declined more in states where remote learning was more prevalent. For example, eighth-grade students in red states where schools reopened sooner performed better in mathematics than their peers in blue states that remained closed.
Furthermore, it is no coincidence that Florida’s drop in academic performance was one of the slightest out of all 50 states while New York’s was one of the worst. Florida reopened its schools in August 2021, despite considerable backlash from Democrats and the press, because its leadership understood that children a) were not at serious risk from COVID, and b) that they would suffer much more harm from being shut out of school for a long period of time. As a result, Florida’s fourth graders ranked in the top four for reading and mathematics, with at-risk and minority students making significant gains to close the achievement gap.
New York’s government, on the other hand, didn’t fully reopen schools until January of this year, and even then subjected students to restrictive mask mandates, testing requirements, and quarantine guidelines that further inhibited their learning. Unsurprisingly, New York’s fourth-grade students earned the fifth-lowest scores in mathematics.
As Heritage’s Lindsey Burke explained, there are other factors that must be explored. It’s interesting, for instance, that California’s test scores were on par with Florida’s despite the vast differences in the states’ COVID policies. Perhaps, as others have noted, easy access to tablets and computers, which California made available to millions of students in 2020, helped alleviate some of the negative effects of distance learning that other states experienced.
But overall, we can say with certainty that remote learning was a failure. Plenty of studies have confirmed as much. One report released by Harvard earlier this year, for example, found that students in districts that remained closed for the majority of the 2020-2021 school year suffered learning loss that was 150% greater than their peers who returned to in-person learning in the fall of 2020.
There are also the real-world experiences of parents who have had to deal with the consequences of school closures for the past two years. Their children are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, have a harder time socializing, and struggle academically than they were before schools closed their doors. And now they’re being told by Democrats and so-called education experts, who are trying desperately to whitewash their pandemic record, that the consequences they’ve been living with aren’t really real. That there’s no way locking children out of the classroom, forcing them to isolate, and demanding that they adjust to a completely different style of learning might have actually harmed their development.
Give me a break.
The pandemic didn’t do this to our children. The government leaders who ordered schools to keep their doors closed for more than a year did this to our children. They put politics and paranoia above the well-being of America’s students, and lagging academic performance is just one of the many costs.