Cleveland School District students returned to school, Monday, Aug. 9, 2021. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Mississippi’s students have not fully recovered from pandemic learning declines, new national test results show, offering a different picture than state test data released earlier this year. 

On Monday the National Center for Education Statistics released 2022 data from the Nation’s Report Card, known officially as the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). NAEP tests fourth and eighth-grade students on what they know and what they can do in math and reading. The last assessment, given in 2019, showed significant gains for Mississippi students that earned national recognition

The 2022 NAEP results show declines or stagnation across all 50 states since 2019, a decrease that national leaders say is evidence of the pandemic’s impact. The greatest declines were in math performance, particularly for eighth grade students across the country. 

“As a country, we face enormous challenges, and there are many areas of serious concern in the data we are talking about today,” said Peggy Carr, National Center for Education Statistics commissioner, said in a press conference. “But I am convinced that this accurate and reliable information that we’re sharing today can help us turn things around for our students.”

For Mississippi students, there were declines in every tested area except fourth grade reading, where there was no change in student performance. The decreases in eighth grade math and reading performance were comparable nationally, but Mississippi saw a larger decrease in fourth grade math performance than the national average.

The 2022 average scores for Mississippi fourth graders were on par with the national average for reading and math, but Mississippi eighth graders were significantly behind the national average in both subjects. 

These results offer a different picture than the state test results published earlier this year by the Mississippi Department of Education, which showed students approaching pre-pandemic levels of achievement. The reading results are more comparable across the two tests, but NAEP results showed larger declines in mathematics that were not apparent in the state test data. 

“The 2022 NAEP scores prove the resilience of Mississippi students and the ability of Mississippi educators to provide high-quality instruction despite the challenges of the pandemic,” said Interim State Superintendent Kim Benton. “While our state’s scores are encouraging, they also underscore the need to press forward to ensure all students achieve proficiency.”  

The tests also broke down performance by subgroup: Hispanic and Black fourth graders in Mississippi saw declines in reading, while white fourth graders’ scores held constant. All groups saw declines in math performance, but the declines were largest for eighth grade Hispanic students.

“The pandemic also laid bare an opportunity gap that has long existed,” said Carr. “The results show how every student was vulnerable to the pandemic’s disruptions, and that it affected some students more than others.”

Additional survey questions included in the NAEP tests showed that, nationally, more high-performing students across the country had access to quality educational resources during remote learning than low-performing students. Those resources included access to a computer or tablet at all times, a quiet place to work at least some of the time, and their teacher available to help with schoolwork at least once or twice a week.

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Julia, a Louisiana native, covers K-12 education. She previously served as an investigative intern with Mississippi Today helping cover the welfare scandal. She is a 2021 graduate of the University of Mississippi, where she studied journalism and public policy and was a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. She has also been published in The New York Times and the Clarion-Ledger.