Schools

Mass. reading, math test scores slip to 19-year low

"It’s clear our students have lost ground, and we have more work ahead to recover.”

Tom Landers / The Boston Globe
Test Scores:

Reading and math scores on national exams for fourth and eighth grade students in Massachusetts have dropped to their lowest levels in nearly two decades — a tangible result of COVID-19 pandemic related learning losses, experts say.

New data released Monday from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” shows scores in the commonwealth dropped to their worst standing since 2003, or earlier, on all four tests, The Boston Globe reports.

Scores in Boston Public Schools, meanwhile, slumped to their lowest point since 2011, or earlier, on the four tests.

“Similar to the 2022 MCAS results, the NAEP results indicate the need for additional student supports so students can make up lost ground,” Massachusetts Education Secretary James Peyser said in a statement. “With state and federal funding, we will continue to help districts provide intensive acceleration programs and other academic and emotional supports.”

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The declines are in line with a national trend, as math scores fell by the largest amounts recorded and reading scores dropped to points not seen since 1992.

The math and reading tests have been administered to a representative sample of fourth and eighth grade students since the 1990s.

Massachusetts scores had been on the decline since at least 2017. But the latest data — the first in three years — show just how drastically the nation’s education system struggled through the pandemic, as declines between 2019 and 2022 are attributed to challenges faced during the health crisis.

“We’re proud of the efforts of our students, families, and educators during these challenging years,” Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley said in a statement. “At the same time, it’s clear our students have lost ground, and we have more work ahead to recover.”

The Bay State had scored the highest among all 50 states in all four tests in 2019.

But the data released Monday shows Massachusetts lost its top standing in two of the four assessments, according to the Globe.

Massachusetts public school students scored second in fourth grade math behind Wyoming, while eighth grade students here came second to those in New Jersey on the reading exam.

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The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, on Monday, emphasized, however, that Massachusetts remains on top when test scores are averaged across the four exams.

According to DESE, the scoring scale ranges from 0 to 500.

  • For fourth grade reading: Massachusetts scored higher than any other state at 227.
  • For eighth grade reading: Massachusetts had the second-highest score at 269. (The highest score was 270).
  • For fourth grade math: Massachusetts had the second-highest score at 242. (The highest score was 243).
  • For eighth grade math: Massachusetts had the highest score at 284.

“Massachusetts once again leads the nation in overall NAEP scores, showing the strength of our education system, despite the challenges of the past few years,” Gov. Charlie Baker said in a statement. “While students continue to perform well compared to other states, we know that the impacts of the pandemic continue to present challenges. Our Administration has made significant investments to help bridge learning gaps from the pandemic, and we remain committed to making sure every student can succeed.”

Education leaders in Massachusetts say it could take five years, or longer, for students to rebound.

In Boston, most student groups scored lower than they did in 2019, the Globe reports.

Notably, Black, Latino, low-income, and English learner students all experienced more drastic losses on the fourth grade math assessment, while low-income students and English learners struggled more than their peers on the eighth grade math test, according to the newspaper.

BPS Superintendent Mary Skipper acknowledged to the Globe that gaps have been widening for years between Black, Latino, and English learner students as well as students with disabilities and their other classmates.

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“We have to acknowledge what the data is showing us, call it out, and be extremely intentional about ensuring our Black and brown students are receiving the supports that they need,” Skipper said. “There is a deep sense of urgency around this work, and we’ll be working to identify and remove the barriers our Black and brown students continue to face. We have to get this right and address these gaps.”

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