Houston, We Have a Problem
The 2022 scores on the Nation’s Report Card (or NAEP), a test administered every other year by the U.S. Department of Education, are in—and the results are disastrous. Reading and math scores for 4th and 8th graders plummeted nationally and in every state.
Let’s be perfectly clear: Missouri has been heading toward a test score cliff for some time. The pandemic just punched the gas pedal like Thelma and Louise. In fact, Missouri’s NAEP scores peaked in about 2009, around the same time that enrollment in our public schools peaked. In 2009, nearly one third (36 percent) of Missouri 4th graders scored at the Proficient level or higher in reading and 41 percent did in math. Last year, just 30 percent hit the mark in reading and 34 percent did in math. The 8th-grade numbers are similar. Reading scores topped out in 2015 at 36 percent Proficient or higher and have been slowly declining ever since, reaching 28 percent last year. 8th-grade math scores, which reached a high of 35.5 percent in 2009, dropped like a rock in one year to 24 percent of students scoring Proficient or higher.
But here are the numbers that should really scare us. In 2022, a shocking 40 percent of 4th graders scored Below Basic in reading. On this test, “Basic” means a “partial mastery of the knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at a given grade.” Four in ten Missouri 4th graders do not even have a partial mastery of 4th-grade reading. How can these students be expected to read and understand a math or science book? A disturbing 39 percent of 8th graders scored Below Basic in math. How will these students navigate high school and become anything close to college or career ready?
Brace yourself for the excuses—much of the blame will be placed on the pandemic—and pleas for more money. The painful truth is that on somebody’s watch, Missouri went from having about 40 percent of their students on grade level to an equal percentage not having even a basic grasp of the material. Is a blue ribbon commission really going to get to the bottom of the problem? Should we expect a reversal of fortune without changing how we do business? I’m not holding my breath.