Key points:

  • Alarming declines in NAEP scores are prompting educators to look for ways to increase academic achievement
  • Understanding each individual student helps educators design supplemental educational programs
  • See related article: What do superintendents really think of the NAEP?

For decades, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has pursued a mission to monitor student academic performance, providing insights into educational progress and long-term trends. It’s a record of consistency that has earned NAEP scores a reputation as “the nation’s report card.”

Recently, that report card revealed some worrying trends. In May, NAEP reported that eighth grade students’ U.S History and civics scores declined significantly between 2018 and 2022. Only 13 percent of eighth graders were at or above the level that NAEP categorizes as proficient in U.S. history—and only one in five were at or above the proficiency level in civics.

That concerning news comes on the heels of the revelation that reading and math scores also fell between 2020 and 2022–a drop that acting NCES Associate Commissioner Daniel McGrath described as “some of the largest declines we have observed in a single assessment cycle in 50 years of the NAEP program.” Student performance in these subjects has declined to a level not seen in the last two decades.

An obvious contributing factor to this alarming trend is the COVID crisis, and the resulting pandemic pressures that have played a role in disrupting student learning and adversely affecting mental health for many young people. School violence and bullying have increased in recent years, and teacher absences and educational staffing vacancies have also played a role in making learning more challenging for many students.

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