A new report by the U.S. Education Department shows that students in California performed better than other states over the past three years, with the Los Angeles Unified School District making some improvements. But overall, students across the nation are still heavily affected by pandemic learning loss.
Eighth and fourth graders in nearly every state across the nation are achieving lower mathematics scores than pre-pandemic years, while average reading scores also declined in the majority of states, according to the “Nation’s Report Card,” released on Oct. 23 by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.
“The results … underscore the importance of instruction and the role of schools in both students’ academic growth and their overall wellbeing,” National Center for Education Statistics Commissioner Peggy Carr said in a statement. “It’s clear we all need to come together—policymakers and community leaders at every level—as partners in helping our educators, children, and families succeed.”
Although California’s math scores followed the nation’s downward trend, the state saw no major change in reading scores from 2019 to 2022, according to the report.
Los Angeles Unified School District—the state’s largest school district—demonstrated greater improvement compared to other participating school districts between 2019 and 2022, according to the report.
It was the only district in the nation where average eighth-grade reading scores increased, while fourth-grade test scores stayed the same. The district’s average eighth-grade mathematics scores did not change, and scores for fourth-grade mathematics decreased, according to the report.
LA Unified Superintendent Alberto Carvalho credited the improvement in an Oct. 23 statement to the learning loss recovery strategies in his 2022–26 Strategic Plan—which include summer school, optional accelerated learning days, expanded tutoring services to assist students during and after school, and hiring additional counselors and mental health workers.
“The Los Angeles Unified community has worked tirelessly over the past few years and endured incredible challenges throughout the pandemic, so this news is truly a bright spot after a period of darkness,” Carvalho said in the statement. “The strategies we have implemented to address learning loss and achievement gaps are working.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom said in an Oct. 23 statement the results underscore the importance of California’s $23.8 billion to support students learning recovery during the pandemic.
“California focused on keeping kids safe during the pandemic while making record investments to mitigate learning loss and transforming our education system,” Newsom said in a statement. “That’s why we’ve made record investments in education, created a new pre-K grade, implemented universal free meals, expanded before and after school programs, bolstered mental health, and more.”
Nationwide, the national average mathematics score for fourth graders fell five points since 2019—from 241 to 236—while the score for eighth graders dropped eight points—from 282 to 274.
In reading, average scores for both grades fell three points, from 220 to 217 for fourth grade and from 263 to 260 for eighth grade.
Carr, the National Center for Education Statistics commissioner, also said the declines in math are the largest ever recorded in the country.
Daniel J. McGrath, the center’s acting associate commissioner, said eighth grade was a “pivotal” moment in students’ math education.
“Eighth grade is … [when students] develop key mathematics skills for further learning and potential careers in mathematics and science,” McGrath said. “If left unaddressed, this could alter the trajectories and life opportunities of a whole cohort of young people, potentially reducing their abilities to pursue rewarding and productive careers in mathematics, science, and technology.”
In mathematics, 25 percent of fourth graders tested below the standard in 2022—an increase from 19 percent in 2019—while 38 percent of eighth graders were below the basic standard, an increase from 31 percent in 2019.
For reading, the percentage of fourth graders below the basic level increased from 34 percent in 2019 to 37 percent in 2022, and the percentage of eighth graders below the standard increased from 27 percent in 2019 to 30 percent in 2022.
The Education Department has been administering yearly tests evaluating both public and private school fourth and eighth graders in math and reading subjects across the nation since 1969. The last tests were administered in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic.