Post-Pandemic Test Scores Show Dramatic Drop in Student Performance

Recently released testing scores from the American College Testing (ACT) and the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) are giving us an initial look at the learning loss associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. This week, ACT released its 2022 score data which shows that just 42% of high school seniors met the college-readiness benchmarks in English, reading, science, or math. Total average scores dropped to their lowest level in 30 years. 

These findings come on the heels of recently released NAEP data which observed the largest drop in reading scores among 9-year-olds since 1990 and the first-ever drop in math scores among the same group. This coming Monday, NAEP is expected to release additional scoring data in reading and math for 4th and 8th graders where many expect similarly large drops to occur.

These findings confirm how damaging the COVID-19 school closures and emergency crisis remote learning were to K-12 students nationwide. The ACT, for example, noted in its official press release that “these declines have returned student achievement to levels last observed in the early 1990s.” 

Despite these disappointing initial results, there is a silver lining in the pandemic’s effect on American education. The staggering amount of learning loss was witnessed firsthand by parents, leading to the strongest levels of parental involvement in recent memory. Some families feel that their student isn’t being challenged enough; some don’t understand why public schools remained virtual longer than nearby private schools; and some families are concerned about objectionable content appearing in the curriculum. All of these parents started demanding more options for their students.

The result of this parental involvement was significant. In 2021, 22 states created or expanded school choice programs. Most notably, the number of statewide education savings account (ESA) programs doubled during the pandemic from five to ten. This includes West Virginia’s new Hope Scholarship Program, which allows 93% of the state’s students to participate, and Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Program which covers 100% of students in the Grand Canyon State. Programs like these allow state education dollars to follow the student, empowering parents to use the funds for a wide variety of pre-approved educational expenses (including tuition, testing fees, specialized therapies for students with special needs, and more). 

The lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on American education remain to be determined, but it’s clear that the states are starting to reimagine what K-12 learning looks like – placing an emphasis on parental involvement and choice by tethering education funds to the student, not the system. 

In Depth: Education

An excellent education has long been recognized as key to the American Dream. Unfortunately, the current monopolistic and expensive K-12 education system is failing our students, leaving them unprepared for college, careers, or life. Similarly, our higher education system is leaving students with higher debt burdens and fewer career guarantees…

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