America’s Report Card: A Wake-up Call for Schools, Parents, and Policymakers

By Ambassador Callista L. Gingrich

This week, the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) was released and revealed devastating results in math and reading scores across America.

In 2022, fourth and eighth grade students performed worse in math in almost every state compared to 2019, with this year’s results yielding the largest declines in scores since 1990.

This is a concerning finding on its own, but even more alarming is the abysmal nationwide drop in reading scores. According to a report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, “Reading proficiently by the end of third grade (as measured by NAEP at the beginning of fourth grade) can be a make-or-break benchmark in a child’s educational development.”

In every region of the country and in 30 states and jurisdictions, fourth grade reading scores declined, with 66 percent of these students scoring at or below the NAEP Basic level.

As the author of seven children’s books on American history, I care deeply about childhood literacy. Reading is essential for the future development and success of young Americans. It underpins every other subject – including mathematics – and is essential for understanding the curriculum that is taught in the classroom. Researchers at Yale University found that three-quarters of students who struggle with reading in third grade will continue to struggle with reading in high school.

Because of the challenges associated with low literacy rates over the long term, which often go hand-in-hand with behavioral and social problems, the National Research Council concluded, “academic success, as defined by high school graduation, can be predicted with reasonable accuracy by knowing someone’s reading skill at the end of third grade. A person who is not at least a modestly skilled reader by that time is unlikely to graduate from high school.”

Media pundits are quick to blame COVID-19 interruptions, quarantines, and closures for the dramatic decline in overall learning. While it is certainly true that the pandemic devastated the ability of children to learn in the classroom, reading scores of fourth-graders have been declining since 2015, and of eighth-graders, since 2017.

The national average of fourth grade reading scores dropped 1 point from 2015 to 2017, 2 points in 2019, then 3 points in 2022. According to Peggy Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which is a branch of the Education Department, “In NAEP, when we experience a 1- or 2-point decline, we’re talking about it as a significant impact on a student’s achievement.”

This trend is unacceptable. However, the scores of Catholic school students remind us that these educational challenges are not insurmountable.

Although the reading scores of Catholic school fourth-graders declined by 2 points from 2019 to 2022, it was less of a decline than the 3-point drop in public schools. Further, eighth-graders in Catholic schools increased their reading scores by 1 point from 2019 to 2022.

Overall, Catholic students in fourth grade scored 16 points higher on reading than the national average, and Catholic students in eighth grade scored 19 points higher than the national average.

Collectively, these nationwide NAEP results strengthen the case for adopting school choice initiatives such as education savings accounts, school vouchers, and tax credit scholarship programs.

School choice programs give families the freedom to choose the type of education that is best for their children and ultimately the knowledge, skills, and values their children need to succeed. Education opens more doors, opportunities, and possibilities for young Americans than any government handout ever could.

The latest NAEP results should be a wake-up call for schools, parents, and policymakers across America. It’s time we give our nation’s children the education they deserve that will enable and empower them to achieve their goals and dreams.