NAEP proves pandemic’s longterm effects on education

COVID-19 caused setbacks in various aspects of life, some more obvious than others. Now, two years after the height of the pandemic, long-term effects are being discovered in students.

National assessments are meant to gauge comprehension across several subjects. For the first time since 2019, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) was held in the U.S., and students ranging from fourth to eighth grade demonstrated alarmingly low scores.

Students coming from underrepresented backgrounds have depicted significantly lower averages, according to data collected by The Nation’s Report Card. 

Black, Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska Native students have more than a 20 point gap in 2022 eighth grade reading averages compared to their white and Asian/Pacific Islander counterparts, who scored higher. In math averages, the gap is even wider with nearly 30-40 points in difference.

Yvette Mendoza, a high school teacher in New Jersey, said, “One of the most difficult things I noticed students struggling with during the pandemic was being focused. Students were not engaged, they were quiet, they were inattentive, etc.”

For many young students, they did not fully understand the severity of the situation or why they suddenly could not see their friends in school. To be suddenly stripped of a well-established school day routine made learning hard for students of all ages. If focusing in the classroom was difficult, being surrounded by family and inside a bedroom only worsened the situation.

Habits built during the nearly two-year isolation period caused any previous discipline and interest in academics to plummet.

As a high school student during part of the pandemic, the connection to school dwindled because when the students were at home there was no space to simulate being in a classroom and learning. 

“Students continued to be unmotivated, inattentive, academically low, as well as uninterested in their studies,” said Mendoza.

Time stopped during the pandemic, but educational expectations from the previous academic years still stood. Students were undergoing a traumatic event they would likely remember for the rest of their lives. COVID-19 has stamped our timeline and there will always be a pre- and post-COVID era.

Perhaps the decline in test scores is a signal that the NAEP and standardized testing is not the best measurement of skill and concept grasping. Students are naturally overwhelmed by their course load and an additional assessment will only add to their stress.

The focus should not be getting national scores to raise, but it should be on the students and getting them back on track. Children receiving those scores and seeing that they did not meet certain expectations causes damage to their self-esteem. It places value entirely on a score that is not an accurate representation of a student’s intelligence and capabilities.

National assessments like the NAEP and SAT make students feel like they are not worthy of a particular education based on their scores. The goal should be to educate all students, not make them feel inferior academically. The competitive environment is draining and leads students into a world of stress, burnout and mental breakdowns. 

Returning from previously being shut inside for nearly two years is exhausting enough. The last thing students need is to be forced to work like machines as if nothing ever happened.

“[We need] to realize that students have lost two years of their studies. We need to be aware that they need the extra support, patience, and guidance to move forward… Students are still struggling and should be given the opportunity to catch up,” Mendoza said.

Photo courtesy of Jeswin Thomas, Pexels.