The nation’s 13-year-olds showed the largest declines ever recorded on the long-term trend assessment in mathematics on the National Assessment of Educational Program and are also struggling with reading, according to results released by the National Center for Education Statistics.
The Nation’s Report Card said in an announcement that the average mathematics score for 13-year-olds declined nine points between the 2019‒2020 and 2022‒2023 school years, and the average reading score declined four points over the same time period.
“The ‘green shoots’ of academic recovery that we had hoped to see have not materialized, as we continue to see worrisome signs about student achievement and well-being more than two years after most students returned for in-person learning,” said NCES Commissioner Peggy G. Carr. “There are signs of risk for a generation of learners in the data we are releasing today and have released over the past year. We are observing steep drops in achievement, troubling shifts in reading habits and other factors that affect achievement and rising mental health challenges alongside alarming changes in school climate. The mathematics decline for 13-year-olds was the single largest decline we have observed in the past half a century. The mathematics score for the lowest-performing students has returned to levels last seen in the 1970s, and the reading score for our lowest-performing students was actually lower than it was the very first year these data were collected, in 1971.”
The data were collected between October and December 2022, during the 2022‒2023 academic year. In mathematics, scores declined between 2019‒2020 and 2022‒2023 for most student groups. Scores declined for Black students, Hispanic students, American Indian/Alaska Native students, students of two or more races, and white students. Declines ranged from six points (for white students) to 20 points (for American Indian/Alaska Native students). Mathematics scores for Asian students were not measurably different comparing 2019‒2020 and 2022‒2023. Scores declined for girls as well as boys, across all regions of the country, and across all school locations. Mathematics scores for students attending Catholic schools were not measurably different comparing 2019‒2020 and 2022‒2023.
In reading, scores declined since 2019–2020 for Black students, white students, and students of two or more races. Scores for Hispanic students, American Indian/Alaska Native students, and Asian students were not measurably different. Reading scores declined for 13-year-olds attending city, suburban and rural schools, but were not measurably different for schools located in towns. Reading scores for students attending Catholic schools were not measurably different comparing 2019‒2020 and 2022‒2023.
“Prior to 2012, we had seen noticeable improvements in mathematics achievement and some improvement in reading achievement since the 1970s,” said NCES acting Associate Commissioner Dan McGrath. “Scores for 13-year-olds declined for the first time in both subjects between 2012 and 2020, beginning a downward trajectory that has lasted for more than a decade, and has not been reversed. Middle school is a critical time for students — a time when they are maturing academically as well as socially and emotionally. What happens for students in middle school can strongly influence their path through high school and beyond.”
Fewer Students ‘Reading for Fun’
“Reading for fun is strongly associated with higher achievement,” Carr said. “Yet fewer students, especially lower-performing students, are reading for fun compared to a decade ago. Aside from its academic effects, reading opens the mind and the heart to new ways of seeing and thinking about the world. Many of our young people will never discover latent passions or areas of interest without reading broadly on their own time.”
The percentage of 13-year-olds who said they “never or hardly ever” read for fun has risen over the past decade; about one-third (31%) of 13-year-olds said they “never or hardly ever” read for fun in 2023, while 22% said they “never or hardly ever” read for fun in 2012.
Higher-performing students were more likely to read for fun; 51% of 13-year-olds scoring at or above the 75th percentile on the NAEP reading assessment reported reading for fun at least once per week, while 28% of students scoring below the 25th percentile reported reading for fun at least once per week.
Fewer Students Taking Algebra
There have been significant shifts in mathematics course taking since 2012. While about one-third of 13-year-olds (34%) in 2012 said they were currently taking algebra, that figure has declined to 24% in 2023. The percentage of 13-year-olds enrolled in pre-algebra has also declined since 2012; 29% of 13-year-olds in 2012 said they were currently taking pre-algebra, and that has declined to 22% in 2023. By contrast, the percentage of 13-year-olds taking regular mathematics has risen. In 2012, 28% of 13-year-olds said they were currently taking regular mathematics, and that has risen to 42% in 2023.
The data suggests this drop in algebra course taking is driven by the West region. In 2012, 51% of 13-year-olds in the West were currently enrolled in algebra; that has declined to 19% in 2023. There were no other measurable differences across the other regions.
You can read detailed results by subject and additional findings on The Nation’s Report Card website.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona issued a statement on the long-term trend assessment results.
Since the 1970s, the National Assessment of Educational Progress has monitored student performance in reading and mathematics through the long-term trend assessments. The LTT assessments are age-based, rather than grade-based, and assess 9-year-old, 13-year-old, and 17-year-old students. The LTT assessments measure basic reading and mathematics skills to gauge how the performance of U.S. students has changed over time.