Most K-12 schools throughout the country are now back in session, and this school year, the fourth of the pandemic, is finally poised to approach prepandemic normalcy, as most school districts have dropped their classroom mask mandates and other Covid safety protocols.
But in other ways, normal is still a long way off for America’s schoolchildren and teachers: Last week, results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress — a gold standard of school testing, often referred to as the “nation’s report card” — showed that the performance of 9-year-olds in math and reading had dropped by the largest margin in 30 years.
“It’s clear that Covid-19 shocked American education and stunned the academic growth of this age group of students,” said Peggy Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, the federal agency that administered the exam this year.
In addition to the obvious educational and developmental harms, school closures could cost this generation of students $17 trillion in lifetime earnings, a December report from the World Bank, UNESCO and UNICEF estimated. “Student test scores, even starting in first, second and third grade, are really quite predictive of their success later in school, and their educational trajectories overall,” Susanna Loeb, the director of the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, which focuses on education inequality, told The Times. “The biggest reason to be concerned is the lower achievement of the lower-achieving kids,” she added, as those students may be less likely to graduate from high school or attend college.
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