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9-Year-Old Achievement Scores Reflect the Failure of the U.S. Education System

Don’t Blame Covid for the Decline in Math and Reading Scores

Perhaps you have heard that Math and Reading scores for 9-year-olds in the U.S. fell between 2020 and 2022 by a level not seen in decades, a troubling sign of the state of American education two years after the Covid-19 pandemic began.

The Nation’s Report Card

The results were part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress long-term trend reading and math exams, often called the “Nation’s Report Card,” conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics. The exams were administered to age-9 students in early 2020 before the pandemic and then again in early 2022, the group said.

The average scores in 2022 declined 5 points in reading and 7 points in math compared to 2020 – the largest decline in reading since 1990 and the first ever decline in math, the organization said.

US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona told CNN the drop in scores was connected to the lack of in-person classroom education during the Covid-19 pandemic and said the US is in an education crisis.

Blame it on Covid?

“That is very alarming. It’s disturbing. But it’s not surprising, keeping in mind a year and a half ago over half of our schools were not open for full-time learning,” he said. All schools are now open for in-class learning, he said.

“In-person learning is where we need to focus. We need to double-down our efforts. I’m very concerned about those scores, and I know that we have the resources now and we need to maintain the same level of urgency we had two years ago to get our students back in to making sure that our students get support.”

To be sure, this is the first national report to compare student achievement from before the pandemic to now, Peggy Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, said in a statement.

“These are some of the largest declines we have observed in a single assessment cycle in 50 years of the NAEP program,” said acting NCES Associate Commissioner Daniel McGrath. “Students in 2022 are performing at a level last seen two decades ago.” Students already behind struggled more, with their math scores falling by up to 12 points and reading score declining up to 10 points.

“Covid-19 disruptions may have exacerbated many of the challenges we were already facing. We know that students who struggle the most have fallen further behind their peers,” Carr said in a statement.

Cardona is dismissing the results and blaming it on Covid. He is downplaying the problems in the primary and secondary education youngsters get today in the U.S. The emphasis should be on learning the skills necessary to compete in increasingly competitive technological fields. Covid learning

It’s not just the Covid pandemic that caused learning disruptions, Carr said. She is right. There is much more to the picture of failure.

The Effect of School Shootings

“School shootings, violence, and classroom disruptions are up, as are teacher and staff vacancies, absenteeism, cyberbullying, and students’ use of mental health services. This information provides some important context for the results we’re seeing from the long-term trend assessment,” Carr said.

There have been 29 school shootings so far in 2022 that resulted in injuries or deaths. There have been 121 such shootings since 2018, when Education Week began tracking these incidents. The highest number of school shootings with injuries or deaths, 34, occurred last year. There were 10 in 2020, and 24 each in 2019 and 2018.

How can we expect kids to learn in an environment where they worry whether their school might be targeted in the future. Teachers are worried about violence in the schools and the threat to students and themselves.

Smash and Grab

Quite frankly, the threat of violence in our schools reflects violence in the streets in the U.S. and despicable actions such as “smash and grab.” These attacks, sometimes labeled, “flash mob” crimes, consist of coordinated groups who force their way into a business, grab as much merchandise as possible and escape in waiting vehicles.

Under California law, “organized retail theft” can be prosecuted if an individual works with at least one other person to steal with the intent to sell. As one state prosecutor explained, that could refer to two people walking into a store to shoplift together; a “flash mob” that is loosely organized on social media; or a more sophisticated network specializing in reselling stolen goods.

Would somebody please explain to me how would anyone know whether these kids worked together, or their intent was to sell the stolen merchandise? This is nothing more than giving cover to law enforcement officials who decline to arrest or prosecute. In California, they are let go only to offend again or commit more serious crimes.

Reading, Math, and Science

It is a said day, indeed, in the U.S. as the ability to learn complex material continues its downward path with no end in sight. What can be down to reverse, or at least stem the rising tide of failure in education? First, parents must get involved in their kid’s education. They should demand extra time be spent on Reading, Math, Science, and critical thinking skills, for starters. Second, the school districts must take these results seriously and demand that the education system get tougher on kids. We can’t afford to pass them along to the next grade if they are truly unprepared for it. Third, Congress needs to hold hearings because our schools are failing.

No Child Left Behind Academic failure

In 2002, President George Bush signed the bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). This groundbreaking law expanded opportunities for American children of all backgrounds and provide all our children with the quality education they deserve while preserving local control. President Bush transformed the Federal government’s approach to education through NCLB.

Back in 2015, Neal McCluskey, the associate director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute, a nonprofit, non‐​partisan public policy research organization, commented that the NCLB law was well-intentioned “but like federal education law generally, the reality of what it has likely accomplished has not lived up to its promise.”

Keeping Up with China

I have previously blogged about the failures in America’s education system and the fact that kids in China have long ago passed them by with respect to achievement tests. For example, the results of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) are bad news for the U.S. U.S. teenagers still lag much of the rest of the developed world in scores covering math, reading and science. Moreover, there is a widening gap between higher-and-lower performing students in the U.S. in reading and math. This is unsustainable. By 2025, I believe the downward scores, especially in science, will usher in an era where Chinese kids are better prepared than U.S. kids for the technological future, including uses of artificial intelligence.

China had the highest scores in all three subjects, with an average reading score at 555, math at 591 and science at 590, on a scale from zero to 1,000. U.S students had an average reading score of 505, or about 10 percent below. In math it was 478 or about 23 percent below and in science, 502 or about 15 percent lower than their Chinese counterparts.


We have a problem with respect to the need for diverse education because some of our kids are not prepared for their grade level learning they experience. Students have diverse backgrounds and different learning abilities, and this causes a problem for teachers. Should they dumb down learning goals and pass kids along to the next level, or should they hold them back, or is it best to assign the slow learners to separate classes that are better suited to their learning abilities.

If the U.S. is to remain the leader in the highly technological world, a major shift in education focus must occur. Moreover, we need to admit that many of our kids do not have the work ethic to make up the difference in achievement scores with China and other countries.

Posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on October 10, 2022. Dr. Mintz published a book, Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behaviorthat explains how doing the right thing and being a good person can enhance well-being. It can also help with educational achievement. The book is available on Amazon. Visit his website and sign up for his newsletter, follow him on Facebook and Twitter.