Student Learning in Mathematics and Science

The COVID-19 pandemic led to severe disruptions in K–12 student learning beginning with the abrupt switch to remote instruction for the majority of schools and students in March 2020. Specifically, in spring 2020, 77% of public schools reported that they transitioned to online remote instruction, and 83% of public school teachers reported that all or some of their classes were moved to online distance-learning formats (Berger et al. 2022). Schools began a slow transition back to in-person instruction during the 2020–21 school year, although only about half of fourth- and eighth-grade public school students attended full-time, in-person classes by the end of May 2021. That percentage had increased to nearly 100% by spring 2022 (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES] 2022).

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. These data also show a disproportionate negative impact of COVID-19 on assessment scores for students living in poverty and for students from historically marginalized racial and ethnic groups who are underrepresented in the STEM workforce. The use of assessment data to understand the impact of disrupted learning 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. This section of the report will focus on indicators related to the impact of COVID-19 on elementary and secondary students and an analysis of student performance in an international context in 2019 prior to the pandemic.

Overall Scores Declined in 2022 following Disrupted Learning in 2020

Assessment data indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic set national educational progress in mathematics back approximately 20 years in terms of point drops in NAEP assessment scores. The NAEP data collected in 2022 show sharp declines in fourth- and eighth-grade student mathematics performance compared with pre-pandemic scores. The NAEP long-term trend (LTT) assessment in mathematics shows a 7-point drop among 9-year-old students from 2020 to 2022 (Figure K12-1). The main NAEP assessment in mathematics shows a 5-point drop among fourth graders and an 8-point drop among eighth graders from 2019 to 2022 (Figure K12-2). These average mathematics scores in 2022 are lower than scores going back to 2004 for 9-year-olds, 2005 for fourth graders, and 2003 for eighth graders.

Keyboard instructions

Average scores of 9-year-old students on the NAEP long-term trend mathematics assessment: 1978–2022

(Average score)
Year All 9-year-old students
1978 219
1982 219
1986 222
1990 230
1992 230
1994 231
1996 231
1999 232
2004 239
2008 243
2012 244
2020 241
2022 234

NAEP = National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Note(s):

The scale for NAEP mathematics assessment scores is 0–500 for 9-year-old students.

Source(s):

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, special tabulations (2022) of the 1978, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2004, 2008, 2012, 2020, and 2022 NAEP long-term trend mathematics assessments, National Center for Education Statistics.

Science and Engineering Indicators

Keyboard instructions

Average scores of students in grades 4 and 8 on the main NAEP mathematics assessment: 1990–2022

(Average score)
Year Students in grade 4 Students in grade 8
1990 213 263
1992 220 268
1996 224 270
2000 226 273
2003 235 278
2005 238 279
2007 240 281
2009 240 283
2011 241 284
2013 242 285
2015 240 282
2017 240 283
2019 241 282
2022 236 274

NAEP = National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Note(s):

The scale for NAEP mathematics assessment scores is 0–500 for grades 4 and 8.

Source(s):

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, special tabulations (2022) of the 1990, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017, 2019, and 2022 main NAEP mathematics assessments, National Center for Education Statistics.

Science and Engineering Indicators

Score Differences, by Student Groups in Fourth and Eighth Grades in 2022

In addition to illustrating the differences in scores from 2019 to 2022, an examination of 2022 main NAEP scores reveals differences within student groups. Male students scored higher than female students in the fourth and eighth grades, with differences of 6 points in 2022 and 3 points in 2019, respectively (Figure K12-3). Students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch at both grade levels scored approximately 25 points lower than students not eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Score differences by race or ethnicity ranged from 42 points in fourth grade to 53 points in eighth grade, with Asian students at the high end and Black students at the low end of the distribution (Figure K12-4). An analysis of score differences by race or ethnicity within school lunch categories shows that these score differences exist regardless of lunch eligibility status (Table K12-1).

Average scores of students in grades 4 and 8 on the main NAEP mathematics assessment, by sex, disability status, and socioeconomic status: 2019 and 2022

(Average score)

* = significantly different (p < 0.10) from 2019 score.

NAEP = National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Note(s):

The scale for NAEP mathematics assessment scores is 0–500 for grades 4 and 8.

Source(s):

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, special tabulations (2022) of the 2019 and 2022 main NAEP mathematics assessments, National Center for Education Statistics.

Science and Engineering Indicators

Average scores of students in grades 4 and 8 on the main NAEP mathematics assessment, by race or ethnicity: 2019 and 2022

(Average score)

* = significantly different (p < 0.10) from 2019 score.

NAEP = National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Note(s):

The scale for NAEP mathematics assessment scores is 0–500 for grades 4 and 8. Black includes African American. Hispanic includes Latino. Hispanic may be any race; race categories exclude Hispanic origin.

Source(s):

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, special tabulations (2022) of the 2019 and 2022 main NAEP mathematics assessments, National Center for Education Statistics.

Science and Engineering Indicators