Data released on Monday by the National Assessment of Education Progress, more commonly known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” shows that math and reading scores in Connecticut for fourth and eighth graders have dropped to some of the lowest levels in over 20 years.
According to the latest state-by-state data, math and English scores dropped across the nation, but the drop for Connecticut students was sharper than for the nation as a whole. The overall drop brings the state closer to the national average than in years past.
Eighth grade math scores suffered the largest decline — with 30 percent of Connecticut students meeting minimum standards of proficiency in mathematics in 2022 compared to 39 percent in 2019.
Fourth graders demonstrated a decrease in math that was almost as large — dropping to 37 percent proficiency in 2022 from 45 percent proficiency in 2019.
Thirty-five percent of Connecticut fourth graders were found to be reading at grade level in 2022, a decline of five points from 2019. Eighth grade saw a similar decline in reading ability, from 41 percent to 35 percent in the past three years.
The data represents the lowest scores in 4th-grade reading since 1998 and the lowest in 8th-grade math since 2000 in the state of Connecticut.
Eric Loken, a professor at UConn’s Neag School of Education who is affiliated with the Measurement, Evaluation and Assessment program, said he considered the results to be “pretty strong evidence” of a drop in student scores.
“It’s good data, and the change in it is quite dramatic,” said Loken. “This is really a data source that people tend to rely on and take as a good indicator to track performance over time.”
Connecticut Commissioner of Education Charlene Russell-Tucker said in a press release that the scores “amplify the continued sense of urgency” to provide support for teachers and address the academic and social emotional needs of students.
Racial and socioeconomic divides in the data were stark. In mathematics, half of fourth graders who identify as White are considered proficient, compared with 11 percent of fourth graders identifying as Black and 16 percent identifying as Hispanic. In reading, 46 percent of eighth graders who identify as White are proficient, compared with 14 percent of eighth graders identifying as Black and 18 percent identifying as Hispanic.
While Connecticut scores were generally at or slightly above the national average, Hispanic and Black students and English Language Learners in Connecticut had lower scores in mathematics compared to the nation as a whole.
Students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds also showed overwhelmingly lower proficiency when compared to their wealthier peers.
Kate Dias, president of the Connecticut Education Association, and Jan Hochadel, president of the Connecticut chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a joint statement that the data confirms the widening of opportunity gaps that COVID caused between school districts.
“Standardized tests are a snapshot in time and must be viewed alongside other indicators that tell us about student learning conditions and life experiences. Viewed in isolation, scores alone cannot identify what our students need or how to best support them,” the statement read.
Loken cautioned against attributing the drop to any one specific cause. But he did say that the data could have implications for the secondary-level teachers who would be responsible for teaching these students in a few years.
“It could mean that students coming into the high school system and from fourth [grade] into the middle school system are going to be less prepared, and that it could make things look different for teachers in those systems,” said Loken.
Loken also said he didn’t believe the new performance data was a reason to change what “proficiency” means at each grade level.
“I think you maintain the standards where they are, because they were put there for a purpose. And they represent a certain level of agreement about what the standards are, about what the expectations are at different grade levels,” he said.
The state Department of Education said in a press release that they are investing in summer programs, professional development for teachers, short-term assessments for school districts and funding for mental health to help students improve academically.