Long-Term Symptom of Pandemic: Worsening National Scores for Maryland Students

The first student assessment scores since the COVID-19 pandemic started show that Maryland students — like many around the country — are worse off than expected: Scores for Maryland 4th and 8th graders in reading and math are down significantly in 2022 compared to scores in 2019, pre-pandemic.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is usually administered every other year, but it was administered this year for the first time since the start of the pandemic. A sampling of fourth and eighth graders nationwide took the test from January to March, with participation from 224,000 fourth graders from 5,700 schools and 222,000 eighth graders from 5,100 schools.

Worryingly, the average scores “show widespread setbacks in most states, but place Maryland among those with the steepest declines.” Students nationwide tested at a 5-point decline in average math scores in fourth grade and an 8-point decline in eighth grade. They averaged a 3-point decline in reading scores for both grades.

Maryland students, however, fared worse in both subjects, compared to the 2019 average scores:

  • Fourth graders scored on average 10 points lower in mathematics;
  • Fourth graders scored an average 7 points lower in reading;
  • Eighth graders scored an average 11 points lower in math; and
  • Eighth graders scored an average 5 points lower in reading.

Notably, while a majority of states overall saw declines in test scores, federal officials noted that “some urban districts fared better in some categories than their home state as a whole.” This 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.

Baltimore fourth graders, however, did not fare as well, scoring 8 points lower on average in reading and a staggering 15 points lower in math.

The Blueprint Accountability and Implementation Board (AIB), the body charged with overseeing the implementation of Maryland’s landmark education reform law, issued a press release responding to Maryland’s NAEP scores:

“I am very concerned for Maryland’s students,” said AIB Chair Isiah “Ike” Leggett. “Fortunately, we already have a plan to reverse these outcomes. This is why we need to move forward with urgency to implement the Blueprint as intended and begin to see the results in improved student achievement and reduced achievement gaps.”

The pandemic has exacerbated the learning shortfalls and achievement gaps that already existed in Maryland, especially for students from low-income families and students of color. “These scores, which reflect the impact of COVID-19 before the Blueprint was launched, reinforce the importance of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future,” said Vice Chair William “Brit” Kirwan.

The role of the pandemic

Surely the COVID-19 pandemic has some responsibility in declining test scores. School districts around the country experienced extensive learning loss resulting from the the pandemic. In fact, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said the declining NAEP scores are the result of the pandemic’s impact on students, as well as decades of underinvestment. He also indicated that in the coming days, the U.S. Department of Education will release details on new federal resources to address learning loss related to the pandemic.

Maryland students were not spared. Recent statewide testing data show that only one-third of Maryland fifth and eighth graders passed the state’s first statewide science examine given since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic started. Education leaders have warned about pandemic learning loss, also known as the “COVID gap,” for over a year now, but this new data reveals it may be worse than previously imagined.

Furthermore, new nationwide data on public school attendance and absenteeism suggests that roughly double the amount of students were chronically absent during the COVID-19 pandemic than in previous years.

The Baltimore Sun noted, however, that the state’s NAEP scores have been in a decline since 2013:

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.

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