Civics scores similarly declined, with nearly a third of eighth graders not reaching a ‘basic’ understanding of the subject.

Additionally, only 68% of students reported taking US history classes in eighth grade—a four percent decline since 2018—while roughly half report taking a class primarily focused on civics or the US government.


Test scores are down across the board. Is the pandemic to blame?

The NCES reported similar results in middle schoolers’ math and reading comprehension last November, suggesting that pandemic-era restrictions on in-person school attendance led to a sharp decline in scores.


Between 2022 and 2019, the average fourth-grade math test score decreased by 5 points, reaching its lowest level since 2005. The average score of eighth-grade students fell by 8 points, reaching its lowest level since 2003.

Meanwhile, reading scores for eighth graders declined to the lowest level since 1992 for both age groups, exacerbating a downward trend for reading comprehension since 2017.


Recent data suggest the pandemic-era restrictions are a large force behind the broad declines. According to a study published last year by Brown University economist Emily Oster, students who primarily attended online classes in the 2021-2022 school year performed 8 percentage points lower in reading comprehension and 13 percentage points lower in math than students who primarily attended in-person classes.

Related stories:

“Dad wants to play mahjong”: The struggles of remote learning in Hong Kong during coronavirus


America’s universities are reckoning with online education

French parents weigh the risk of sending their children back to school

📬 Sign up for the Daily Brief

Our free, fast, and fun briefing on the global economy, delivered every weekday morning.