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Education

Math, reading scores of Maryland students see declines among the steepest in the nation, highlighting pandemic’s lingering impact

New national data shows that Maryland students experienced some of the sharpest drops in the nation between 2019 and 2022 in mathematics and reading.

The results come from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which was administered from January to March of this year to a sampling of fourth and eighth graders nationwide. The average scores released Monday show widespread setbacks in most states, but place Maryland among those with the steepest declines.

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Baltimore schools CEO Sonja Santelises pictured in 2020.

Maryland fourth graders who took the test scored on average 10 points lower in mathematics and 7 points lower in reading than their counterparts did in 2019. Eighth graders’ average scores fell 11 points in math and 5 points in reading compared with 2019.

The nation as a whole saw a 5-point decline in average math scores in fourth grade and an 8-point decline in eighth grade. Average reading scores declined 3 points for both grades.

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State Superintendent of Schools Mohammed Choudhury said Maryland’s NAEP scores have trended downward since 2013 and a return to normal is “not good enough.” The scores were likely exacerbated by online learning, which last longer in Maryland than most states, but are not solely attributed to the pandemic, he said.

“Maryland has a lot of work to do,” Choudhury said.

The pandemic recovery effort comes as the state embarks on a 10-year plan to overhaul the state’s education, referred to as the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. The plan will infuse $3.8 billion in schools over the next 10 years.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said the scores are the result of the pandemic’s impact on students, as well as decades of underinvestment. The department will in the coming days issue resources for educational leaders to use federal dollars to address learning loss, he said. He did not specify what types of resources would be available.

“It’s an urgent call to action,” Cardona said of the scores. “We must raise the bar in education.”

The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics produces the assessment, which is often referred as the “Nation’s Report Card,” as a common measurement of progress in schools.

This is the first federal assessment since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic examining math and reading achievement in grades 4 and 8 for the nation, states and select urban districts, including Baltimore City. The results offer states and other jurisdictions the clearest picture yet of the pandemic’s impact on achievement and the well-being of students, teachers and schools.

While a majority of states saw declines, federal officials noted that some urban districts fared better in some categories than their home state as a whole.

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“The fact that cities were able to hold steady in the wake of all that we went through does strike me as resilience, as a bright spot,” said Peggy Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics.

That includes Baltimore City, where eighth grade reading scores held steady compared with 2019. And some subgroups, including Hispanic students and Black economically disadvantaged students, scored slightly higher on the test than they did in 2019, city schools CEO Sonja Santelises said. Those same groups saw declines statewide.

Santelises attributes the eighth grade reading score to investments made in 2019 to develop a homegrown tutoring model designed to provide targeted foundational literacy instruction to struggling students in a small group setting for 30 minutes five days per week.

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The impact of the pandemic remained prevalent among Baltimore fourth graders, who scored 8 points lower on average in reading. Math scores plummeted for the city’s fourth graders, whose average scores dropped a staggering 15 points. Eighth graders fared better, but saw a 9-point decline in math.

“I never like being that low, but we were not alone,” Santelises said. At the time the test was administered in January, the city was facing a surge of the virus’s omicron variant. Some schools experienced frequent disruptions in staffing and attendance. Families may have felt less confident helping their students with mathematics at home compared with reading skills. And Baltimore is already home to concentrated poverty, leaving some students particularly vulnerable, she said.

School system leaders are in rigorous discussion about curriculums, implementation strategies, accelerated learning and tutoring. The school system focused on building out a tutoring program in the spring that has since yielded promising results, Santelises said.

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The system reports that first graders and second graders who received tutoring in the 2021-22 school year moved out of the “well below benchmark” category at double the rate of students who weren’t tutored.

The city school system has invested more than $17 million in high-dosage tutoring since the 2021-22 school year. More than 10,600 students, representing about 13% of those enrolled, participated across 129 schools, officials said in a news release.

Federal officials said the assessment results cannot be solely attributable to how long students participated in remote learning, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have an effect, Carr said. Officials will need to further study the data to figure out what factors contributed to the declines.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress is typically administered every other year. Samples were collected in 2022 from 224,000 fourth graders from 5,700 schools and 222,000 eighth graders from 5,100 schools.


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