Results are in for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the so-called nation’s report card. They paint a bleak picture for the Empire State.
NAEP is administered to a randomly selected group of students in each state, so we can infer that their performance provides an accurate snapshot of educational progress across the entire state. The test is criteria-referenced, meaning that scores are a measure of knowledge on a predetermined standard as opposed to how students fare compared to one another (i.e. norm-referenced).
NAEP reading and math exams were last administered in 2019, so the 2022 results provide the best clues yet as to the degree of learning loss that took place across the country due to the pandemic.
In New York, the decline in fourth grade math is particularly acute. Scores dropped by ten points from 2019, a number surpassed only by Delaware, Virginia, and Washington DC and tied by Maryland and New Mexico. Psychometricians assert that ten points is roughly equivalent to one year of learning.
Only New Mexico and West Virginia perform “significantly lower” in fourth grade math, while 32 states perform “significantly better.” Fifteen states are not significantly different.
The six-point drop in 8th grade math is closer to the national norm of 8 points, but that is cold comfort given the unprecedented decline in math across the country. According to NAEP standards, equal proportions of fourth and eighth graders — 28 percent — are proficient in math.
Reading scores also reveal marked declines in fourth grade, where scores declined by six points compared to 2019. Now, 30 percent of New York fourth graders are deemed proficient in reading, and New York only “significantly outperforms” four states but is significantly outperformed by 8 states and tied with 37 others.
Eighth graders outperformed national norms and scores held steady from 2019, so New York now outperforms 14 states and ties 33 others. Still, scores remain at historic lows and only 32 percent are deemed proficient.
That learning loss was more pronounced in math and that reading learning loss was greater in fourth grade compared to eighth tracks with state assessment results from New York City. As I noted upon the release of NYC state assessment results, once children are literate, reading learning is more easily self-directed and much of it occurs outside the classroom.
New York outcomes also track with the national story that changes in math achievement correlate with access to in-person learning but changes in reading achievement do not, as well as the general observation that emergency remote learning was particularly harmful for younger kids.
Notably, New York was not a standout on previous iterations of the NAEP exam, scoring right around national averages and generally showing stagnation while the rest of the country improved. After the latest results, New York continues to profile as a mediocre performer on eighth grade tests, but a dreadful one on fourth grade tests.
In Florida—where New Yorkers resettle in droves—scores indicate that fourth graders are ahead of New York students by about 1.5 years in math and 1 year in reading. Pending a dramatic turnaround, it won’t just be Republican parents who “jump on a bus and head down to Florida.”
On a granular level, declines occurred almost evenly among Black, Hispanic, and white students, and all three groups experienced particularly notable declines in fourth grade math.
And when it comes to economic differences, students who qualify for free or reduced lunch experienced similar declines to those who did not. Altogether, the magnitude of economic and racial achievement gaps remain similar to high pre-pandemic levels.
State officials and union allies will inevitably cite NAEP scores as a reason that New York public schools need even more cash to fulfill what the ex-NYC Schools Chancellor deemed a “Marshall Plan” for public education. In reality, the link between student achievement and public school spending is remarkably tenuous, and new NAEP results certainly don’t make a compelling case that new spending would result in better outcomes. To be sure, higher spending did not stave off learning loss.
NAEP only highlights the performance of 26 large districts (including New York City), so it does not enable any sort of comparison across schools or districts in New York. That analysis will require use of state assessments; New York officials ripped off the band aid and quietly released state assessment results today after a long and unusual delay and an assurance only ten days ago that they would be released on November 4th.
Fully analyzing state assessments will take some time. In the interim, NAEP scores don’t offer much reason for optimism.