News Release

Historic decline in scores on Nation’s Report Card shows need to address opportunity gaps in education

NEWS RELEASE – October 24, 2022

Contact: Alan Richard,, (202) 641-1300

ATLANTA — The historic drop in students’ test scores on the Nation’s Report Card shows the need for states to take greater action to address disparities in educational opportunity in the South and the nation—especially for students in low-income families and Black and Latinx students.

The Southern Education Foundation (SEF), a 155-year-old nonpartisan organization working for justice in education, sees the alarming drop in scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) as clear evidence that states must ensure all public schools have the resources for students to succeed.

“Many southern states continue a piecemeal approach to improving education, even after the pandemic. We need more comprehensive improvements in the South and across our nation that provide every student with the same opportunities for success, from birth through college,” SEF President and CEO Raymond Pierce said.

In math, students’ average scores nationwide fell by five points in grade 4 and eight points in grade 8 on the Nation’s Report Card, also known as NAEP. Both declines in math were the largest ever recorded since the exams began in 1990.

In reading, the average score declined by three points in grades 4 and 8, the two main grade-levels taking the NAEP exams. Thirty-seven percent of U.S. fourth-graders and 30% of eighth-graders scored below the NAEP Basic level in reading.

This is the first Nation’s Report Card since the start of the pandemic. A representative sample of students in every state usually take the exams every two years, but the latest test was delayed a year after school closings and safety concerns.

While the declines in scores are likely related to students’ challenges during the pandemic, Mr. Pierce warned that many students in lower-wealth communities still don’t have the educational opportunities as their peers in other areas. He added that federal pandemic-relief aid for schools will eventually run out.

Many states need to expand and improve programs for children, from birth to age 5; deal with teacher shortages by recruiting more highly capable and diverse candidates into the field; and bolster support for the “whole child” with community resources, counseling, and high-impact tutoring, Mr. Pierce said. SEF is working with school districts in several states to support research-based, effective, high-impact tutoring to help students impacted by the pandemic.

Nationally, gaps remained between in Black and Latinx students’ NAEP scores and those of their peers. Fourth-grade math scores dropped for all racial and ethnic groups. The gaps between White students and Black and Hispanic students were larger in 2022 than three years ago, with greater score declines in math for Black and Hispanic students further widening those gaps. 

“This must be a wake-up call for the country that we have to make education a priority,” former North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue, the chair of the National Assessment Governing Board (which oversees NAEP), said in her official statement.

Peggy Carr, the National Center for Education Statistics Commissioner, called the current time a “defining moment for education in the country” as she announced the new NAEP results at the National Press Club today in Washington, DC. She cited opportunity gaps as an important factor in the results.

Ms. Carr also noted that a NAEP survey this year showed no discernable differences in scores among districts or states that relied on online classes longer than other districts. All students and school systems had similar struggles, she said.

Some southern states, including Mississippi and Florida, have seen major improvements in grades 4 and 8 reading and math in previous years. Some states are providing teachers with sustained professional development on the science of reading and made other related policy changes.

On this year’s NAEP results, some of the 17 southern states saw less-severe declines than the nation as a whole, although the declines were especially severe in some cases:

Grade 4 math: 

  • Delaware’s score for this grade-level and subject fell by 14 points from 2019 to 2022, the sharpest drop in the nation.. 
  • Virginia’s score declined by 11 points, and Maryland’s by 10 points. 
  • South Carolina had a three-point decline, among the nation’s smallest.
  • Alabama was one of only two states nationwide with no change in its score.

Grade 8 math:

  • Oklahoma had the nation’s largest decline—by 13 points compared to 2019 results. 
  • Delaware and West Virginia had the second-largest declines, of 12 points each.
  • Maryland’s score dropped by 11 points, and North Carolina’s by 10 points. 

Grade 4 reading:

  • Florida and South Carolina were among several states to see no change in their score. 
  • Alabama and Louisiana were among the three states nationally to see increases in reading scores. 
  • Four other southern states saw only small declines: Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas.

Grade 8 reading:

  • Delaware and Oklahoma had seven-point declines, among the nation’s steepest declines.
  • Five southern states had slight declines: Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Virginia, and Texas.

A NAEP survey shows that many teachers feel less-inspired, more overworked, and lack confidence to help address students’ knowledge and skill gaps, Ms. Carr said. SEF advocates for better professional-learning opportunities and for states and districts to ensure all students are taught by well-prepared and fully licensed teachers.

NAEP data is a catalyst for important education policy conversations and more equitable practices to close opportunity and achievement gaps.

Originally founded in 1867 to educate Black children and children from low-income families in the South, the Southern Education Foundation continues to advance educational opportunity and equity. SEF is based in Atlanta, Georgia.