States Respond as Reading, Math Scores Plummet to Lowest Levels in Two Decades

The Nation’s Report Card released new results today that show two decades of academic progress in reading and math among 4th and 8th graders was wiped out during the pandemic – a likely result of emergency remote learning and a resistance to in-person instruction among many school districts. The scores reflect their lowest levels in nearly 20 years, and no state saw a statistically significant increase in any category.

Overall, the results indicate that 39% of 4th graders and 32% of 8th graders are performing below a basic reading level, and 26% of 4th graders and 30% of 8th graders are performing below a basic level in math. No state was immune to the effects of the government-imposed pandemic lockdowns, with all states seeing drops of different magnitudes across the board. Average 8th grade math scores were particularly affected, with over one-third of states experiencing a 10-point or larger drop.

The Nation’s Report Card offers the latest evidence of just how far behind our nation’s students fell during the pandemic. Unfortunately, it’s unclear whether these students will recover before graduating into the workforce – potentially resulting in lower wages and a weaker future American economy. McKinsey & Company, for example, released a report last year finding that “today’s students may earn $49,000 to $61,000 less over their lifetime” as a result of pandemic-related school closures. In total, they estimate a $128 to $188 billion annual negative impact to the future American GDP.

Despite the results, it should be emphasized that a number of different states are already responding with new policies and legislation to offer additional educational options to American families. These ideas, like education savings accounts, vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, and others are aimed at reimagining our collective approach to K-12 education by recognizing the unique abilities of each student. They acknowledge that there are strengths and weaknesses to each type of educational environment, whether that be a public, private, charter, virtual, or home school, and what works for one student may not necessarily work for another. The goal among these policies is to ensure that any student, not just the wealthiest ones, can afford whatever educational option is best for them.

Parent-centric and pro-education-freedom policies like these can help our nation’s students recover from the learning loss experienced during the pandemic. While today’s results are disappointing and reflective of a number of failures within our education system, the silver lining could be that the states are just beginning to lead the way toward a new and better way of approaching education – one that emphasizes students and families, not bureaucracies.

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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