The Pandemic's Toll: Only 1 in 4 Eighth-Graders Proficient in Math in 2022

Posted November 1, 2022

The COVID-19 pan­dem­ic has tak­en a toll on math scores across the Unit­ed States, with just 1 in 4 eighth-graders achiev­ing pro­fi­cien­cy, accord­ing to 2022 Nation­al Assess­ment of Edu­ca­tion­al Progress (NAEP) results. 

The last time eighth-graders fared so poor­ly in math was over two decades ago in 2000. Amer­i­can stu­dents fared bet­ter from 2009 to 2019, with 1 in 3 eighth-graders hit­ting the math pro­fi­cien­cy mark dur­ing this time­frame. Data col­lec­tion stopped in 2020 and 2021 — a con­se­quence of the pan­dem­ic — and the lat­est NAEP results are the first report­ed since the arrival of COVID-19.

The drop in per­for­mance is deeply con­cern­ing but unsur­pris­ing since the pan­dem­ic dis­rupt­ed the edu­ca­tion of mil­lions of stu­dents. The pub­lic health cri­sis exposed remote learn­ing chal­lenges, includ­ing gaps in inter­net access and tech­nol­o­gy and reduced stu­dent sup­port ser­vices and inter­ac­tions with teach­ers. At the same, kids and fam­i­lies grap­pled with increased lev­els of stres­sors, including:

  • social iso­la­tion;
  • finan­cial instability;
  • food inse­cu­ri­ty; and
  • men­tal illness.

State-Lev­el Math Pro­fi­cien­cy Rates

From 2019 to 2022, the share of eighth-graders scor­ing pro­fi­cient in math fell in every state across the nation and Wash­ing­ton, D.C. Five states — Mass­a­chu­setts, Min­neso­ta, North Car­oli­na, Penn­syl­va­nia and Wash­ing­ton — report­ed the great­est set­backs. In each of these states, the like­li­hood of stu­dents achiev­ing math pro­fi­cien­cy dropped 12 per­cent­age points over three years. Even with this change, stu­dents in Mass­a­chu­setts — along with stu­dents in Utah — per­formed best, with 35% of all test tak­ers hit­ting the pro­fi­cien­cy mark. Stu­dents in New Mex­i­co fared worst, with just 13% of eighth-graders achiev­ing pro­fi­cien­cy in math.

Why Math Scores Matter

Researchers have doc­u­ment­ed a con­nec­tion between math pro­fi­cien­cy and future aca­d­e­m­ic, eco­nom­ic and job suc­cess. Increas­ing­ly, sharp math skills — along with pro­fi­cien­cy in sci­ence, tech­nol­o­gy and engi­neer­ing — is viewed as crit­i­cal to build­ing a strong 21st-cen­tu­ry workforce.

Race, Eth­nic­i­ty and Math Proficiency

Racial and eth­nic dis­par­i­ties in math pro­fi­cien­cy are per­sis­tent and stark, point­ing to ongo­ing inequities in access­ing high-qual­i­ty learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties and resources. In 2022, Black (9%), Amer­i­can Indi­an (11%) and Lati­no (14%) eighth-graders had the low­est math pro­fi­cien­cy rates nation­wide. In con­trast: Stu­dents who iden­ti­fied as two or more races (27%), white (34%) or as Asian or Pacif­ic Islander (56%) were more like­ly to achieve math proficiency.

Across all racial and eth­nic groups, the share of eighth-graders achiev­ing math pro­fi­cien­cy fell by four or more per­cent­age points between 2019 and 2022. Stu­dents who iden­ti­fied as white or as two or more races report­ed the largest set­backs — a drop of nine per­cent­age points for each of these groups.

More Edu­ca­tion Data

See all edu­ca­tion indi­ca­tors on the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT® Data Cen­ter. The math pro­fi­cien­cy indi­ca­tor is includ­ed in the KIDS COUNT Child Well-Being Index. Read the KIDS COUNT Data Book to learn more.

Sign Up for the Foundation’s Newslet­ters To Get the Lat­est Data and Resources on Child and Fam­i­ly Well-being

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