Back to the Future? U.S. Reading Scores ‘Not Significantly Different’ than 1971
Despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars on public schools, American reading and math scores reached their lowest level in decades — a decline experts attribute to COVID-19 school lockdowns and replacing the fundamentals with “politicized and sexualized curricula.”
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released the results of the latest long-term trends exam (LTT) on Wednesday. The “Nation’s Report Card,” administered to eighth grade students last October through December, found that the average 13-year-old student’s math scores are the lowest since 1990, and reading the lowest in 19 years. Students scored 256 in reading and 271 in math on a scale of 500.
“The average reading score (256) for 13-year-old students was 4 points lower in 2023 than in 2020 and seven points lower than in 2020 and was not significantly different from the average score in 1971 (255),” according to a press release announcing the results. Math scores fell nine points from pre-pandemic levels.
The results do not speak well of President Joe Biden, who regularly says “these are our kids,” Meg Kilgannon, senior fellow for Education Studies at Family Research Council, told The Washington Stand.
“Let’s not forget that the scores are already based on metrics that have been lowered time and again — but still performance is below expectations,” Kilgannon told TWS. “The United States is the greatest country on earth, and our students deserve the best schools and a proper education. That we fail in this is just one part of why we see parents engaging politically on educational matters.”
The Biden administration blamed the decline on the continuing fallout from school closures and limited online learning based on COVID-19. “Overall, the National Assessment of Educational Progress results are a stark reminder of the impact that this pandemic has had on students across the country,” said Education Department spokesman Roy Loewenstein.
However, NAEP/LTT scores have continually fallen since 2012. “Scores for 13-year-olds declined for the first time in both subjects between 2012 and 2020, beginning a downward trajectory that has lasted for more than a decade, and has not been reversed,” confessed Dan McGrath, acting associate commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which administers the test.
The steepest learning losses this year hit students who were already struggling the most. Poor readers scored lower reading proficiency than the first time the test was first administered in 1971. Students in the lowest percentile of math and/or reading experienced twice the decline as the highest-performing students.
In reading, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian, and Alaska Native students were “not measurably different” from last year, while white, black, and multiracial students lost ground. The only group in public schools to see its test scores rise were non-native English speakers in eighth grade. Even after the gain, “English learners’ scores were still well below those of their peers,” noted CNN, with average scores of 225, compared to 264 in 2022 NAEP results.
Students in Catholic schools experienced “no significant change” over the course of the pandemic, NAEP results revealed.
“Parents understand that we cannot ‘trust the experts’ to educate our children. This has been proven by school shutdowns, politicized and sexualized curricula, plummeting test scores, and ‘discipline’ policies that lead to more chaotic school environments,” Kilgannon told TWS. “And the adults that have benefited from all the money good taxpayers have poured into the system will blame the children for this failure and insist on more social emotional learning, more therapy, more gender ‘support plans’ or other mental health interventions — sometimes even without parental notification.”
Public school pupils were also less likely to engage in activities and classes that fuel academic success. Thirty-one percent of eighth graders said they “never or hardly ever” read for fun in 2022, up nine points over a decade. The proportion of eighth-grade students taking algebra also fell from one-third to one-quarter since 2012.
Critics say the blame rests in part on policy-driven curriculum changes that emphasize social emotional learning, critical race theory, extreme gender ideology, and pornographic books in public school libraries. The error-ridden 1619 Project was taught to “tens of thousands of students in all 50 states.”
The woke agenda pervades the entire curriculum. Rhode Island’s “anchor standards” suffuse all subjects with intersectionality, instructing teachers to “argue how power can be distributed and used to create a more equitable society for communities and individuals based on their intersectional identities.”
Even in math, MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, donated $10 million to a nonprofit that mentors teachers to see the world through a “lens of oppression” and tells teachers “to infuse social justice into mathematics.” The nation’s most populous state, California, changed math guidelines in 2021 to include “teaching for equity and engagement.”
Teachers who educate more than 66,000 children of enlisted military members in schools operated by the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA), were told, “You can talk about LGBTQ+ things in elementary school. … It’s actually the ideal time.”
Much of this reflects the political orientation of the nation’s leading teachers unions: the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). At its 2022 Annual Meeting, the union adopted a resolution stating the “NEA will publicly stand in defense of abortion,” and NEA President Becky Pringle defiantly vowed that teachers “will say gay! We will say trans!” in the classroom. Meanwhile, President Biden cemented closer ties by appointing AFT President Randi Weingarten to the Homeland Security Academic Partnership Council designed to keep schools safe.
The slide in early adolescent educational standards has continued apace despite the fact that the U.S. Department of Education’s budget amounted to $194.42 billion in the 2023 fiscal year — a $42 billion increase since 2017, according to USASpending.gov. The average expenditure in inflation-adjusted dollars rose from $14,669 in 2012-2013 to $17,013 per pupil in 2019-2020.
“These scores demonstrate the reality that no matter how much money Washington spends on social problems, these problems not only remain, but they worsen,” Kilgannon told TWS. “Public money that is spent under the premise that it will benefit children doesn’t seem to be reaching students. In fact, it seems to be funding educational administrative bloat, which just demands more financing.”
“Parents are not going to accept these excuses anymore,” Kilgannon concluded. “Parents must engage for the good of their children. And since we all pay for public schools, everyone should be concerned and demand more from the schools we fund for the good of the nation.”
Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.