Now that the COVID-19 pandemic is over–or, perhaps more accurately, now that we’ve accepted that coronavirus will apparently always be with us, and are learning to live with it without turning the world upside down–we’re starting to get a better sense of the true impact of the disease and the shutdown orders issued in response to it. One area of particular interest for many people has been how schoolchildren were affected by lengthy school closures and reliance on remote learning. Now the test scores are starting to come in, and unfortunately the news is alarming
The New York Times recently published an article on the devastating results reported by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which tests fourth graders and eighth graders in reading and math. The NAEP is federally administered and was given to 450,000 fourth and eighth graders in more than 10,000 schools between January and March. The results show that math scores fell sharply among both classes of schoolkids, in virtually every state in the country, and reading scores also declined in more than half of the states. (Ohio kids did slightly better than the national average, according to a chart compiled by the Times.)
Only 26 percent of the eighth graders tested nationally were rated proficient in math, down from 34 percent in 2019, and less than one in every three eighth graders tested out as proficient in reading. Notably, “proficient” is not an especially lofty standard–it simply means that “students have demonstrated competency and are on track for future success.” Basic math and reading skills are prerequisites for most of the jobs that are available in the modern economy. If only 30 percent of eighth graders are competent at reading, and fewer than that understand basic math, what lies in their future?
The results show that the pandemic seriously hurt the educational development of our kids. The NAEP scores also suggest that remote learning simply is no substitute for the in-classroom experience, where students are drilled and taught directly by a teacher and there is the opportunity for one-on-one interaction that can spur greater student effort. As a society, we’ll have to make a special effort to help the kids whose learning curves have been so adversely affected, but we also need to make sure that authorities do some learning, too. One lesson is that we need to think very carefully about issuing prolonged school shutdown orders in the future, because the consequences obviously can be harmful to the students, their comprehension of the basics, and their futures.