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‘Nation’s Report Card’ shows pandemic declines in Ky. reading and math

J. Tyler Franklin

National standardized testing data show the pandemic has left far more Kentucky kids struggling to master basic reading and math skills.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress tests a sample of fourth and eighth grade students every two years. Also known as “The Nation’s Report Card,” the test is seen by many experts as the most reliable measure of student skills over time and across state boundaries. The test was supposed to be given in 2021, but the pandemic delayed it until this year.

NAEP results for 2022 show steep declines in reading and math since 2019 —nationally and here in Kentucky. 

“This year’s NAEP results are not unexpected and show the profound impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our students,” Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass said in an emailed statement. 

“These assessment results will serve as the baseline from which we will move forward as we continue to navigate learning post-pandemic and help our students recover from the interrupted learning.”

Fourth Grade

The decline in scores erased nearly all the gains Kentucky made in fourth grade reading levels over the last two decades. Well over a third of fourth grade students tested “below basic” in reading this year, the largest portion of Kentucky students in that lowest category since 1998. 

About a third of Kentucky fourth graders scored at “basic,” in reading and another third at “proficient” or above.

In math, a quarter of fourth grade students tested “below basic,” the most since 2005. About a third tested at “proficient” or above.

While Kentucky’s latest fourth grade scores were low, they were not significantly different from the national average in either subject. 

Eighth Grade

In eighth grade, a third of students tested “below basic” — the largest portion of students in that lowest category since at least 1998. Another third of students tested at “basic” in reading, and about a third at “proficient” or above. 

Despite the drops, Kentucky’s eighth grade reading scores mirror the national average, which also saw a steep decline.

In math, Kentucky eighth graders lost all the gains the state made since 2000. About one in five students tested at proficient or above, and about twice as many scored “below basic.”

Kentucky eighth graders have trailed the national average in math since 2011, and the latest result put them even further behind.


While many feared the pandemic would expand gaps in scores between marginalized students and their more-advantaged peers, Kentucky’s NAEP scores suggest gaps remained relatively stable compared to 2019.

The disparities between lower-income students and their wealthier peers remained mostly unchanged in all subjects and grade levels. And the differences between Black and white students didn’t change significantly in eighth grade. 

However, the pandemic appears to have impacted the racial gap in fourth grade. Since 2019, the disparity in scores between Black and white fourth graders widened significantly in math, but closed significantly in reading.

Jefferson County Public Schools

Jefferson County Public Schools, with about 95,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, is one of around 25 large districts that participates in NAEP. The district saw significant declines in most grades and subjects.

Because most large districts saw similar drops in test scores, JCPS performed on par with other large school systems, like those in Atlanta, New York City, Boston and Austin. Large cities usually have lower test scores compared to their corresponding state, in part because they tend to serve higher concentrations of students in poverty and students of color, who face additional barriers to accessing education.

JCPS’ lowest scores were in eighth grade math. For the first time since at least 2009, more than half of JCPS eighth graders scored “below basic” in math, and just 17% were “proficient” or above. 

JCPS fourth graders also lost ground in math, with nearly 40% “below basic,” and only a quarter “proficient” or above. Before the pandemic, about a third of JCPS fourth graders were “proficient” or above on NAEP. 

While JCPS eighth graders lost ground in reading, JCPS fourth graders saw their reading score hold steady. However, JCPS’ fourth grade reading scores were on the decline before the pandemic began, from a peak in 2015.

Copyright 2022 WFPL News Louisville. To see more, visit WFPL News Louisville.

Jess is LPM's Education and Learning Reporter. Jess has reported on K-12 education for public radio audiences for the past five years, from the swamps of Southeast Louisiana at WWNO, New Orleans Public Radio, to the mountains of North Carolina at WUNC in Chapel Hill. Her stories have aired on national programs and podcasts, including NPR's All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition, Here & Now and Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting. A Louisville native, Jess has her bachelor's degree from Centre College, and her masters in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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