LOS ANGELES -- Math and reading scores among America's 13-year-olds fell to their lowest levels in decades, with math scores plunging by the largest margin ever recorded, according to the results of a federal test known as the nation's report card.
The results, released Wednesday, are the latest measure of the deep learning setbacks incurred during the pandemic. While earlier testing revealed the magnitude of America's learning loss, the latest test casts light on the persistence of those setbacks, dimming hopes of swift academic recovery.
"Most parents have absolutely no idea how far behind their kids are," said Barry Weiss, who runs Mathnasium Sherman Oaks.
In the national sample of 13-year-old students, average math scores fell by 9 points between 2020 and 2023. Reading scores fell by 4 points. The test, formally called the National Assessment of Educational Progress, was administered from October to December last year to 8,700 students in each subject.
Weiss saw the decline as children tried to learn from home during the pandemic.
"It isn't like they're just behind in fractions or they're just behind the multiplication," he said. "It's just they missed a year or two of school."
Shaindee Kreitenberg, a local parent, said she was able to help her children but saw how difficult it was to keep up.
"Because I work independently and from home, I was able to guide my children a little more, but I did see a lot of our social circle, our friends, people surrounding us, that the children really were struggling," she said.
Similar setbacks were reported last year when NAEP released broader results showing the pandemic's impact on America's fourth- and eighth-grade students.
Math and reading scores had been sliding before the pandemic, but the latest results show a precipitous drop that erases earlier gains in the years leading up to 2012. Scores on the math exam, which has been given since 1973, are now at their lowest levels since 1990. Reading scores are their lowest since 2004.
Especially alarming to officials were outsize decreases among the lowest-performing students. Students at all achievement levels saw decreases, but while stronger students saw slides of 6 to 8 points, lower performing students saw decreases of 12 to 14 points, the results show.
There were also differences by race. Students from almost every race and ethnicity saw math scores slide, but the steepest drops were among American Indian students, at 20 points, and Black students, at 13 points. The decline for white students, by comparison, was 6 points, while Asian students held even.
The scores reflect the disproportionate impact of the pandemic's disruptions on Black and Latino students and those from low-income families, said Denise Forte, president and CEO of the Education Trust, a nonprofit advocacy group.
"Students want to succeed, attend college, start a rewarding career and reach their full academic potential," Forte said. "But they can't if they continue to lose precious ground."
Pandemic setbacks appear to be lingering even as schools across the U.S. spend billions of dollars to help students catch up. The federal government sent historic sums of money to schools in 2021, allowing many to expand tutoring, summer classes and other recovery efforts.
"We know that students across the board really struggled and the data show us that," said Dr. Tyrone Howard, a professor of education at UCLA. "We have to drill down on those students who really fell behind, and we know who those students are. They're students who are growing up up in poverty, they're students whose first language is English and they're Black and Latino students."
Experts fear it's going to take years to catch up and say it will take cooperation between parents and educators to get students moving forward.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.