The long-anticipated results of test scores from “The Nation’s Report Card” on student achievement were just released. It was the first detailed glimpse into how students in each state performed in the areas of reading and math since the pandemic. Scores were expected to tumble, and they did, but for Louisiana there was a silver lining.
Educators from around the country were expecting the worst, and in some ways, they got it. The test results from the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress showed the pandemic took a severe toll on student achievement. The NAEP test was last administered in 2019 and the most recent assessment focuses on how students in every state are performing in 4th and 8th grade reading and math.
Student performance was down in most states, and this was especially true in math, where scores declined more than in any year since testing began in 1990. They were down five and 8 points, respectively, in 4th and 8th grades. In reading, they were generally down by three points.
The U.S. Secretary of Education called the results, “appalling and unacceptable,” while Peggy Carr, the head of the agency that administers NAEP, described it as the clearest picture yet of the toll the pandemic has taken on student achievement. “In NAEP, when we experience a 1- or 2-point decline, we’re talking about it as a significant impact on a student’s achievement,” she said. “In math, we experienced an 8-point decline.”
And yet, through it all, Louisiana actually moved up in the national rankings compared to other states in both subjects at both grade levels. The only area of real growth was in 4th grade reading. It was only two points, but it was the highest in the nation and one of only a small handful of states to see improvement. Scores basically held steady in 8th grade reading. And while there were declines in math at both grades, they were smaller than most states and the national average.
The reading scores really stand out because Louisiana has been experiencing a steady decline in early literacy performance since 2017. Today its reading scores in both 4th and 8th grades are closer to the national average then they have ever been.
So, what happened? It would take additional research to fully answer that, but it’s likely that more in-person learning in Louisiana compared to many other states was a contributing factor. It would also be interesting to know to what degree the billions of dollars local school districts received to combat learning loss may have helped. And there’s also the fact that Louisiana was just beginning its new focus on early reading in an effort to get its previously declining scores back on track.
Of course, as encouraging as much of this data might be, we can’t forget the need for the reality check. There’s no doubt that we want to see Louisiana moving up in national rankings and progressing faster than other states. But in this case, much of the reason we moved up in the overall rankings from 49th to 43rd is that other states dropped further than we did.
That’s good that we mitigated the drop and, in the case of reading, mostly defied it. But we also have to recognize that fewer than 30% of our students are scoring at or above proficient on NAEP in any level of reading or math. The fact that that we are now closer to the national average in some cases is not much consolation when our actual achievement levels remain so low.
Still, it is a testimony to our teachers, parents, and students that in every category, Louisiana was in the top 10 states for holding its own over the last three years of the pandemic. That might seem like faint praise, but the impact that COVID has had on the education of our children has been devastating. In some cases, a decade or more of growth and improvement at the national level has been wiped away. The fact that Louisiana, for the most part, was able to hang close to where it was is a positive thing.
The hope is, now, that it’s also a sign of real improvement to come.