# Michael Holzman

# National Assessment of Educational Decline: 2022

National Assessment of Educational Decline: 2022

We now have the results of the first National Assessment of Educational Progress since 2019. The assessments took place at grades 4, 8 and 12. The grade 8 Reading and Mathematics assessments are particularly crucial. Success, “Proficiency,” flags grade 8 students as those on the high road to graduation, college, and an economically comfortable adult life. Failure, scores “below Basic,” indicate that other students are on the low road. They will have difficulty graduating from high school; are unlikely to qualify for admission to college; will face a lifetime of minimal wage work or chronic unemployment, are not well equipped for participation in public life.

SUMMARY

Reading

According to the 2022 NAEP results, the nation’s public schools failed to teach nearly one-third of the middle school students in their care to learn to use literacy so that they are likely to graduate from high school, go on to college, achieve economic prosperity. That is an estimated 1,166,800 students. This failure was much worse for Black and Hispanic students and within each racial/ethnic category for those students from low-income families. The pandemic decline in reading skills, by these measures, for the most part primarily affected the ability to learn the basic skill of reading for White students and students from more prosperous households.

Mathematics

The nation’s public schools in 2022 failed to teach more than one-third of the middle school students in their care to learn to use Mathematics well enough so that they are likely to graduate from high school, go on to college, achieve economic prosperity. That is an estimated 1,477,906 students. This failure was much worse for Black and Hispanic students than for White and Asian/Pacific Islander students, and, within each racial/ethnic category, those students from low-income families. The 2022 results in mathematics were noticeably lower than those for 2019.

READING

NAEP provides results for a variety of categories of the student population. Among those categories are certain Racial/Ethnic groups, chiefly “White,” “Black,” “Hispanic,” and “Asian/Pacific Islander.” Another category is an approximation of family economic status: eligibility for the National School Lunch Program. A third is parental education attainment.

The racial/ethnic categories are problematic: each of them is composed of highly varied racial, ethnic, linguistic and national origin groups. “Black” students can be the descendants of Africans enslaved in the United States before the Civil War or those whose families recently emigrated from the Islands or recent immigrants from Africa itself. “Hispanic” students can be first or second generation emigrants to this country (or whose families had settled here before their areas became part of the nation) or who are descended from earlier emigrants from highly developed or from lesser developed countries. “Asian/Pacific Islander” students may be of Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Filipino, Hawaiian and many other origins. And “White” students can be of equally disparate national origins and generations in this country. Nonetheless, as NAEP does not provide data more finely divided than the major categories, we must work with those. The latest enrollment data were for the 2020-2021 school year. At that time there were 3,900,000 students in 8th grade. 202,700 (5.21%) were Asian/Pacific Islander; 1,100,000 (28.16%) Hispanic; 587,000 (15.10%) Black and 1,787,000 (45.96%) White.

Student achievement at grade 8 is a particularly important educational indicator. Eighth grade is in many ways a “gateway” to further education. And students who have not been taught basic skills in grade 8 may have difficulty acquiring them later.

Here are the percentages of students in the United States found to read at each NAEP level in 2022 (2019 results in parentheses): 30% were at below Basic in 2022 (28% in 2019); 39% at Basic (39% in 2019); 27% at Proficient (29%), and 4% at Advanced (4% in 2019 as well).

NAEP defines the “Basic” level for Grade 8 Reading in this way:

When Reading informational texts such as exposition and argumentation, eighth-grade students performing at the NAEP Basic level can likely:

• determine the meaning of words using context from one section of the text

• locate and use explicit details to answer specific questions and make simple inferences about the text

• determine the main idea or purpose of the text using explicit features from the text

• demonstrate a general understanding of text features or graphics

• demonstrate a general understanding of the concepts in the text but can support their understanding using only limited information from the text

• formulate an opinion about a claim or argument and support this opinion using only limited information from the text, etc.

We might therefore assume that students in Grade 8 who are found to be reading at the NAEP “below Basic” level are not likely to be able to do these things. In other words, it is unlikely that they are able to make much use of written materials in school, or later at work, or in everyday and public life. According to these 2022 NAEP results, the country’s schools have not taught nearly one-third of their students to read well enough to use reading as a resource for further education and adult life. That is 1,166,800 students. This is a two-point difference from 2019 when 28% of students were at this level. There was also a two point difference in the Proficient category: from 29% to 27% (1,050,000 in 2022). Much has been made of this rather small decline in the overall assessment, most often because it is the first such decline in recent memory. But that is not the most important part of the story. For that we must look at the detailed findings. (Again, the 2019 outcomes are in parentheses.)

Family income

Of students in grade 8 who are economically disadvantaged, that is, eligible for the National School Lunch Program, 42% place in the below Basic group. Only 21% of those with family incomes above that level do so: a 21 percentage-point gap. There was a slight slippage for students eligible for the National School Lunch Program from 2019 (from 40% to 42% in the below Basic category), but a more noticeable decline for the students from more prosperous households (from 17% to 21% in the below Basic category and from 39% to 35% in the Proficient category in Reading). The greater decline in skills of students from more prosperous households under the trying conditions of education during the pandemic was unexpected.

Race and Ethnicity

Not withstanding the issues noted above concerning racial and ethnic categorization, NAEP Reading results among students classified by race and ethnicity show interestingly wide variations.

On the 2022 NAEP Reading assessment, 22% (393,200) of “White” grade 8 students score below Basic, as do 15% (30,400) Asian/Pacific Islander students. On the other hand, 47% (276,000), nearly half, of Black and 39% (427,000) of Hispanic grade 8 students were not taught to reach the Basic level in Reading. That is, the largest group of the students scoring below Basic were Hispanic, followed by White, then Black and Asian/Pacific Islander.

On the 2019 NAEP Reading assessment, 19% of White grade 8 students had placed in the below Basic category, as did 15% of the Asian, 47% of the Black and 38% of the Hispanic students. Only the White students lost ground by this measure during the pandemic.

Race, Ethnicity and Family Income

The family income achievement divide also plays out within most of the racial/ethnic groups. Twice the percentage of White students eligible for the National School Lunch Program (34%), than those from more prosperous White families (18%), did not reach the Basic level in Reading. For Asian/Pacific Islander students the income effect was slightly stronger than that for White students: 25% and 9%. There was a smaller family income effect by this measure for Hispanic students: 44% were placed below Basic among those eligible, and 29% among those not eligible for the National School Lunch Program. The gap is similar for Black students: among those eligible, poorer, more than half, 53%, were scored as below Basic in reading, as are 36% of those with better family incomes.

Family economic circumstances for Asian, Hispanic and White students overwhelmed racial/ethnic cultural factors (if any) by these measures. The gap between Black and Hispanic student outcomes on the one hand, and White and Asian students on the other, is in the same range as the family income gap. This is probably not coincidental, as family income itself varies by race and ethnicity, with most Asian and White, non-Hispanic, family incomes being greater than most Black and Hispanic incomes.

Generally, there were two or three point increases in below Basic for students eligible for the National School Lunch Program and hardly any change in the Advanced percentages for those students. Among students from more prosperous families, three and four percentage point increases in the percentages at the below Basic level in reading occurred between 2019 and 2022 and no more than one percentage point declines in the Advanced category.

Parental Education

Parental education attainment is an additional factor often identified as affecting student achievement. Among students who reported that their parents graduated from college, only 10% of Asian students placed in the below Basic category for grade 8 Reading, as did just 16% of White students. And yet, 39% of Black students and 27% of Hispanic students who reported that their parents graduated from college placed in that lowest category.

Education attainment is usually correlated with income, implying a strong relationship between the family income and parental education data. However, while parental education attainment and, presumably, family income, was associated with student grade 8 Reading achievement for most White, non-Hispanic, and Asian students, it was much less so for students in the Black and Hispanic categories. Neighborhood and school segregation effects may be a factor.

While most of the other categories varied only slightly, if at all, from 2019, the percentage of Black students in the below Basic category by this measure declined from 43% to 39%.

Reading Summary

The pandemic decline in reading skills, by NAEP’s Reading measures, for the most part took place among White students and students from more prosperous households. It is remarkable that those learning losses were not greater or more wide-spread. Nonetheless, according to 2022 NAEP results, the nation’s public schools fail to teach almost one-third of the middle school students in their care to learn to use literacy so that they are likely to graduate from high school, go on to college, achieve economic prosperity. This failure is much worse for Black and Hispanic students and within each racial/ethnic category for those students from low-income families. The nearly 1,200,000 of all students grade 8 students who had not achieved the ability to easily read by middle school are unlikely to reach above middle class incomes during their working lives, may not even reach middle class incomes. They will pay little in the way of income taxes, may suffer poverty-induced health problems, and may very well pass these problems on to their children.

MATHEMATICS

Turning then to the increasingly important subject of Mathematics, according to the NAEP, students performing at the NAEP Mathematics Basic achievement level in grade 8 can likely

• simplify expressions involving integers

• use operations to solve real-world problems involving integers or fractions

• use proportional relationships to find equivalent ratios and create fractions and fractional relationships, with or without models

• demonstrate understanding of scientific notation, etc.

We might therefore assume that students at the NAEP “below Basic” level in Grade 8 Mathematics are not likely to be able to do these things. In other words, it is unlikely that they are able to use Mathematics beyond simple arithmetic. In 2022 these would include 38%, of all grade 8 students. This was an important decline in skills from 2019, when the percentage of students in grade 8 Mathematics scoring at the below Basic level was 32%: a 6 percentage-point drop in the pandemic years.

As with the Reading assessment, there are wide variations in Mathematics among students by racial and ethnicity classifications. 74% of “White” grade 8 students scored at the Basic level and above in Mathematics, as did 84% of Asian and Pacific Islander students. In contrast, 62% of Black and half, 51%, of Hispanic grade 8 students did not reach the Basic level in the Mathematics assessment. That is, 922,000 of Black and Hispanic and 497,000 White and Asian/Pacific Islander students were found to be unable to perform the mathematical operations specified by NAEP as necessary for a basic education in middle school.

The decline in Mathematics skills from 2019, in contrast to those for Reading, was quite marked for each group except the Asian and Pacific Islander. Percentage placed in the below Basic category increased by 5 percentage points for White students, 8 percentage points each for Black and Hispanic students.

As with Reading, in addition to the apparent racial/ethnic effects, there are family income contrasts in the outcome of the NAEP grade 8 Mathematics assessment.

More than twice the percentage of White students eligible for the National School Lunch Program (43%) than those from more prosperous families (20%) did not reach the Basic level in Mathematics. For Asian students the income effect was greater than that for White students, a 21 percentage-point gap based on family income: between 30% and 9%. The family income effect by this measure for Hispanic students was that 57% and 40% scored below Basic among those eligible and not eligible, respectively, for the National School Lunch Program, a gap similar to that for Black students (68% and 50%).

A comparison with the 2019 data is quite striking. Among eligible students, the decline (that is, the increase in the percentage classified as below Basic) was 7 percentage points for eligible White students, 8 percentage points for eligible Black students, 9 for eligible Hispanic students and 4 for eligible Asian and Pacific Islander students. For students not eligible for the National School Lunch Program, that is those from more prosperous families, the change was 6 percentage points for White students, 12 for Black students, 10 for Hispanic students and 1 for Asian and Pacific Islander students. The largest decline in the percentage classified as Advanced among these groups was that for Asian and Pacific Islander students: a 10 percentage point drop from 2019 to 2022 in the Asian students from more prosperous (not eligible) households.

Parental Education

Results on the 2022 NAEP Mathematics assessment for students reporting that a parent graduated from college were found to be markedly lower than in 2019 for many students. The percentage scored at below Basic increased by five points for White and Hispanic students and 10 pointes for Black students, while the percentage scoring at Proficient declined by four percentage points for each group other than Asian and Pacific Islander, which also show declines, if somewhat less.

PROFICIENCY

We might close by looking at the Grade 8 Mathematics results for students scoring at the NAEP “Proficient” and “Advanced” levels. NAEP defines “Proficient” in this way: “Students performing at the NAEP Proficient achievement level can likely

• demonstrate an understanding of using and creating ratios to solve problems mathematically or in context

• calculate GCF and LCM

• perform basic operations with rational numbers to solve problems in context while applying proper units and converting between fractions, decimals, and percent

• compare and order rational numbers with rational or common irrational numbers with or without a number line

• apply problem-solving strategies to solve square roots and ratio and proportions, etc.

NAEP defines “Advanced” in this way: “Students performing at the NAEP Advanced achievement level can likely

• solve mathematical problems and problems in context with rational numbers including absolute values and variables by interpreting, creating and using diagrams

• engage with abstract situations and apply properties such as even and/or odd numbers, divisibility rules, and prime and composite numbers in mathematic situations, etc.

By these measures, the nation’s public schools educate 35% of White students to NAEP’s target (Proficient and Advanced) for grade 8 in Mathematics, 9% of Black students, 14% of Hispanic students and 55% of Asian/Pacific Islander students. 9% of White students are brought to the Advanced level, as are 25% of Asian students, 2% of Hispanic students and 1% Black students. The last of those is 5,900 for the entire nation, as compared to 22,000 Hispanics, 50,700 Asian and Pacific Islanders and 161,000 White, non-Hispanic, students.

Family income

Three times the percentage of students from prosperous households than those eligible for the National School Lunch Program reach the Proficiency level or above, and five times the percentage of students from prosperous families than those from families eligible for the National School Lunch Program reach the Advanced category. In 2019, 15% of eligible students were at Proficient and 3% at Advanced, with 46% of eligible students were below Basic. Among ineligible students in 2019, 32% were at Proficient and 16% at advanced, while just 18% were below Basic in Mathematics.

The 2022 NAEP report shows that 19% of “White” grade 8 students eligible for the National School Lunch Program reached the “Proficient” level in Mathematics and 3% went beyond that to the “Advanced” level: 22%. “White” students from more prosperous households, and therefore ineligible for the National School Lunch Program, reached the “Proficient” level 41% of the time, while 11% reached the “Advanced” level: a total of 54%. 25% of Asian students eligible for the National School Lunch Program were categorized as “Proficient,” 13% at Advanced: a total of 38%. Ineligible Asian students were categorized as “Proficient” 33% of the time and “Advanced” 32%: a total of 55%. Hispanic students in grade 8 who were eligible for the National School Lunch Program were classed as “Proficient” 10% and “Advanced” 1%: a total of 11% Those Hispanic students from more prosperous families reached the “Proficient” level 17% and “Advanced” 4%: a total of 21%. 6% of Black students eligible for the National School Lunch Program achieved the “Proficient” level, 1% were in the “Advanced” category. Black students who were ineligible for the National School Lunch Program were classified as “Proficient” 12% of the time and “Advanced” 3%, a total of 15%, while 6% Black students eligible for the National School Lunch Program were classified as “Proficient” and 1% as “Advanced”: 7%.

Mathematics Summary

The nation’s public schools fail to teach more than one-third (1,478,000) of the middle school students in their care to learn to use Mathematics well enough so that they are likely to graduate from high school, go on to college, achieve economic prosperity. This failure is much worse for Black and Hispanic students and, within each racial/ethnic category, those students from low-income families. The 2022 results were lower than those for 2019. On that assessment, 43% of White, 13% of Black, 19% of Hispanic, and 62% of Asian students were found to be at Proficient or Advanced.

For all intents and purposes, according to the 2022 results, the schools do not educate Black and Hispanic students to the level expected in Mathematics at grade 8. The decline from 2019 to 2022 to the levels reached by Black and Hispanic students, especially, is shameful.

CONCLUSION

In this education economy of artificial scarcity, in good times and bad, pandemic or not, investment is distributed in accordance with the maxim: those that have more get more. In other words, students from families with higher incomes are to be educated to higher levels of achievement than those from families with lower incomes.

Michael Holzman

November, 2022