- Average mathematics scores on a national assessment in 2022 were lower than scores in all previous assessment years going back to 2005 for fourth graders and going back to 2003 for eighth graders. These data indicate that mathematics achievement, which had already plateaued for the past decade, has now regressed approximately 20 years during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- National mathematics assessment results show a disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on students with already historically lower scores, with larger score declines for Black students, students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, and students scoring in the 10th and 25th percentiles.
- The gap between students scoring in the highest (90th) and lowest (10th) percentiles on a national mathematics assessment widened to 105 points in 2022, the largest it has been since the assessment began. Students at the lowest end of the score distribution (those in the 10th percentile) posted scores that were 12 points lower in 2022 than in 2020, whereas those at the highest end of the score distribution (those in the 90th percentile) posted scores that were 3 points lower.
- At the regional level, national mathematics assessment results show that in 2022, eighth graders in the Northeast and Midwest scored higher than eighth graders in the South and West.
- A national mathematics assessment in 2022 shows that a third of fourth graders scored proficient or higher, while a quarter of eighth graders did so. These scores suggest low levels of proficiency at both grades and lower proficiency levels at higher grades.
- A pre-pandemic international assessment of mathematics and science in 2019 shows that eighth graders in the United States ranked about in the middle of education systems in countries with advanced economies. Several countries, such as Singapore and Japan, far outpace the United States.
- Analysis of student science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) coursetaking collected in 2019 in the pre-pandemic period shows that students are completing more mathematics and science courses than they have in the past.
- Although students are earning more mathematics credits in high school and completing more advanced courses than they had in earlier years, their scores on a national mathematics assessment have not improved over the same period.
Elementary and secondary education in mathematics and science is the foundation for student entry into postsecondary STEM majors and a wide variety of STEM-related occupations. Given the foundational nature of elementary and secondary STEM education, it is critical to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected student learning. The COVID-19 pandemic led to unprecedented disruptions in K–12 education beginning in March 2020 and continuing through the 2021–22 school year. The abrupt switch to remote instruction for the majority of schools and students during this time substantially altered education and led to declines in student learning for almost all students. National mathematics assessment data released in 2022 by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show sharp declines in student mathematics performance compared with pre-pandemic scores, with average scores lower than those in all previous assessment years going back to 2005 for fourth graders and going back to 2003 for eighth graders.
National mathematics assessment results show a disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on students who were already behind before the pandemic, with high score declines for Black students, students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, and students scoring in the lowest 10th percentile. A NAEP assessment shows that the average score for Black 9-year-old students in 2022 was 13 points lower than the average score for Black 9-year-old students in 2020. Students at the lowest end of the score distribution (those in the 10th percentile) posted scores that were 12 points lower in 2022 than in 2020, whereas those at the highest end of the score distribution (those in the 90th percentile) posted scores that were 3 points lower.
Research literature suggests that persistently lower scores for economically disadvantaged students and students from historically marginalized groups, including Black students, Hispanic students, and American Indian or Alaska Native students, may be correlated with educational and social inequities, including, but not limited to, schools with inadequate resources and less-qualified teachers, inadequate medical care, food insecurity, disproportionate disciplinary practices, lack of a social safety net, and exposure to trauma (Bowman, Comer, and Johns 2018; Carnevale et al. 2019; Hanushek 2023; Pearman 2020; Reardon, Kalogrides, and Shores 2019). Researchers also suggest that COVID-19 affected learning for these students to a greater degree because of such factors as food or housing insecurity, distracting workspaces, competing family care responsibilities, and lack of access to electronic devices or reliable Internet (EdWeek Research Center 2022; Haderlein et al. 2021; Kurtz et al. 2021).
COVID-19 has also impacted students’ college readiness. From 2021 to 2022, the percentage of high school graduates reaching college readiness benchmarks dropped from 36% to 31% in mathematics and from 35% to 32% in science. A nationally representative survey of high school graduates in 2020 and 2021 revealed that the 2021 graduates changed their postsecondary plans at a higher rate than did graduates in 2020. The 2021 graduates reported higher rates of delaying or canceling their postsecondary plans to pursue more education and reported higher rates of using earnings from afterschool jobs to support their families rather than using them for college-related costs. Researchers have calculated the potential long-term impact on students’ lifetime earnings resulting from learning disruptions and unfinished learning due to COVID-19. Their calculations suggest that lost income for the generation of students impacted by the pandemic could amount to more than $2 trillion (Kane et al. 2022).
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, federal and state policymakers, legislators, and educators had been working to broaden and strengthen STEM education at the elementary and secondary levels. Indicators presented here reveal some changes, such as high school students taking more mathematics and science courses than they had in previous decades. Other indicators have remained low, such as the percentage of students scoring at proficiency in mathematics and the percentage of high school students reaching college readiness benchmarks in STEM courses. In addition, demographic disparities in educational opportunities and performance have persisted. Internationally, the United States continued to rank in the middle of advanced economies in mathematics and science prior to the pandemic, with countries such as Singapore and Japan far outpacing the United States.
The use of assessment data and other educational indicators to understand the impact of disrupted learning and the success of educational interventions is critical as policymakers, school systems, state leaders, educators, and parents seek ways to support students who were affected by school-related closures and learning disruptions during the pandemic. Indicators in this report highlight the potential long-term impact of the pandemic on outcomes for elementary and secondary students in the United States.