The Nation's Report Card is in, and the results are not good.
Test results among fourth and eighth graders in mathematics and reading declined nationally and across most U.S. states, according to a government-run assessment that offered the first glimpse of COVID-19's impact on student learning.
"The results show the profound toll on student learning during the pandemic, as the size and scope of the declines are the largest ever in mathematics," National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Commissioner Peggy G. Carr said in a statement.
Nationally, average math scores for fourth graders fell five points to 236 since 2019. Among eighth graders, scores fell eight points to 274. Reading scores among fourth and eighth graders fell three points to 217 and 260, respectively. Results varied along racial and ethnic lines, too. Declines were most widespread on the eighth grade math test, with declines along all racial and ethnic lines. Fourth grade math scores also declined for all groups except Hawaiian Pacific Islander students. Eighth grade reading scores declined only for white students, and for American Indian/Alaska Native, Black, Hispanic, and white students for fourth-grade reading.
At the state level, there were no improvements in fourth and eighth grade mathematics. Fourth grade scores declined in 43 states and jurisdictions including California, New York, New Jersey, and Florida and remained unchanged in 10. Eighth grade scores declined in all but two states and jurisdictions where it remained steady, including Utah and the Department of Defense Education Activity, which educates military-connected children. Fourth grade reading scores declined in 30 states and jurisdictions, whereas eighth grade reading scores declined in 30 and improved in one: the Department of Defense Education Activity.
"Despite the countless obstacles that students faced over the course of the pandemic—including instability at home, decreased access to resources, teacher shortages, cyberbullying, and an uptick in violence once schools reopened—we also see pockets of remarkable resilience across the country, particularly in the country's urban districts," Carr said in a statement. 
These bright spots are scores from students living in urban areas with populations north of 250,000. Urban areas assessed include New York City, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami-Dade, the District of Columbia Public Schools, San Diego, Houston, Milwaukee, Albuquerque, Chicago, Boston, Fort Worth, and Denver, among others. Reading scores among eight graders remained stable in 21 of 26 jurisdictions and actually increased in Los Angeles. Fourth grade reading scores also mostly held steady in 17 areas.
Lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic posed real trials for school-aged children and their educators. At the start of the 2020 to 2021 school year, only 40 percent of students enrolled in Kindergarten through 12th grade had access to some kind of in-person instruction, according to McKinsey and Company. By the close of the year that number had jumped to 98 percent, but access to in-person instruction varied. 
Those students dealing with fully remote or hybrid schooling struggled with irregular instructors, poor internet connections, Zoom fatigue, and, in some cases, lack of adequate supervision. According to NCES, those students who scored above the 75th percentile reported more access than those scoring below the 25th percentile to educational resources like a computer or laptop, quiet place to work, access to a teacher once or twice, and real-time video lessons.
For those falling behind, the consequences could be severe and could threaten their educational and work opportunities for years to come.
"If left unaddressed, this could alter the trajectories and life opportunities of a whole cohort of young people, potentially reducing their abilities to pursue rewarding and productive careers in mathematics, science, and technology," Daniel J. McGrath, acting NCES associate commissioner for assessment, said in a statement.
The NCES has been administering the National Assessment of Educational Progress — or Nation's Report Card — to fourth and eighth graders since 1969 to assess the progress of public and private education in the U.S. In 2022, the test was administered between January and March. Close to 447,000 students from 5,190 schools participated.