The U.S. Department of Education recently noted in a newsletter that according to the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress results – the first since the start of the pandemic – average scores in reading and math for both fourth and eighth grade students declined sharply since 2019.

NAEP is the largest nationally representative continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas.

There were declines in reading by three points in both grades, with 37% of fourth grade students and 30% of eighth grade students nationally scoring below the NAEP “Basic” level. Moreover, there were declines in math by five points in fourth grade and eight points in eighth grade, with 25% of fourth grade students and 38% of eighth grade students nationally scoring below the NAEP “Basic” level. No state or jurisdiction posted gains in reading or math in either grade, nor did any of the 26 participating urban school districts. The vast majority posted declines.

“The results released today from the NAEP are appalling, unacceptable, and a reminder of the impact that this pandemic has had on our learners,” Miguel Cardona, the U.S. secretary of education, declared in a statement. “The data also represent a call to action for the important work we must do now for our students – especially those who have suffered the most during the pandemic. This once-in-a-generation virus upended our country in so many ways – and our students cannot be the ones who sacrifice most now or in the long run. We must treat the task of catching our children up in reading and math with the urgency this moment demands. It’s up to all of us to raise the bar in education.”

According to a news release from the National Assessment Governing Board, students experienced the steepest declines ever in math, especially among eighth-grade students. The NAEP results follow the September release of the Long-Term Trend report, a national snapshot of progress among 9-year-olds in reading and math, which showed historic declines in student achievement.

“This must be a wake-up call for the country that we have to make education a priority,” said Beverly Perdue, former governor of North Carolina and chair of the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets the policies and achievement levels for the National Assessment of Educational Progress. “The eighth graders who took NAEP last spring are in high school today. We must invest in education so resources and supports are in place to accelerate student learning and close gaps that predated — but were exacerbated by — the pandemic. Otherwise, students will graduate and enter college and the workforce without the skills and knowledge we need to be globally competitive.”

Students most impacted by the pandemic include struggling, or lower-performing, students, according to the National Assessment Governing Board. The pandemic worsened a pre-pandemic trend in math and reading among fourth graders, in which the gap between higher and lower-performing students was widening. The results spotlight the need to focus on historically marginalized students.

View the full results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.