‘Nation’s Report Card’ shows test results at lowest level in decades

William Brangham:

Judy, this is the first national report card since 2019. Nearly 450,000 fourth and eighth graders from some 10,000 different schools across the country have been tested, and the results are alarming.

Only 36% of fourth graders and 26% of eighth graders were proficient in mathematics, meaning they could demonstrate strong academic performance in difficult subjects. In reading, it wasn’t much better. Only 33% of fourth graders and 31% of eighth graders were rated competent and superior.

From 2019, the average math score of fourth graders fell by five points, with eighth graders dropping by eight. In reading, the average scores of fourth and eighth graders fell by three points. No state in the country has seen a significant improvement in these average test scores.

So, to take a closer look at these results, I’m joined by Peggy Carr. She is the commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which released today’s report.

Peggy Carr, thank you very much for being here.

Difficult circumstances to talk about. I mean, that’s almost two decades of nearly washed-out educational progress. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona today called the results appalling and unacceptable. Do you agree with this choice of words and this assessment?

Peggy Carr, Commissioner, National Center for Education Statistics: Well, what can be said is that these results represent a defining moment in the history of education in this country.

The pandemic and all the disruption it has caused has really challenged an entire generation of students to succeed. They have been overtaken and we have to do something about it. We must act, and we must act decisively to put these students back on track.


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