Minnesota math, reading scores drop to lowest in decades, remain above national average

Minnesota’s fourth and eighth-graders did worse on national math and reading tests last spring than they have in decades, according to new reports released Monday.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released its 2022 reports Monday, showing a significant drop in students’ reading and math abilities compared to past years, although Minnesota students remained above the national average in most areas.

According to the reports, Minnesota’s fourth-graders got an average score of 239 on last spring’s national math test and 215 on the reading test. In 2019, those average scores were 248 and 222, respectively. The national averages were 235 for math and 216 for reading.

The state’s eighth-graders experienced a similar decline in scores, averaging 280 on the math test (compared to 291 in 2019) and 260 on the reading test (compared to 264 in 2019). The national averages were 273 for math and 259 for reading.

The NAEP noted the average Minnesota fourth-graders did better than 24 other states and not significantly different than 25 states on the math test. On the reading test, they outpaced six states and didn’t do significantly different than 37 other states. Minnesota’s eighth-graders did better than 32 states on the math test and basically the same as 18 other states. On the reading test, the state’s eighth-graders did about the same as 35 other states and better than 12 states. Of note, the report included Washington, D.C., and the Department of Defense Education Activity as separate jurisdictions for those comparisons.

While the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions — which kept many students out of regular learning in classrooms and forced kids into remote learning for significant stretches of the recent school years — certainly played a role in the declining scores, it’s nevertheless noteworthy that the state’s scores registered as the worst in decades, although Minnesota isn’t alone there.

The NAEP noted the national average fourth- and eighth-grade math scores had their biggest drop since 1990, with eighth-graders’ scores not this low since 1990 and fourth-graders’ not this low since 2003. Likewise, the reading scores for both groups are at their lowest since 1992. The NAEP assessments started in 1990 and are typically administered every other year.

A spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Education told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, “The most recent data continues trends that we have seen beginning in 2017, prior to COVID. We expected declines, given the disruption everyone experienced during the pandemic, but that doesn’t make these results easier to see. While Minnesota student scores outpace national scores, we must work diligently to take the necessary steps to help all students, across all grades, achieve.”

Minnesota Republicans blamed Gov. Tim Walz and Democrats for the drop in test scores. Meanwhile, Education Minnesota, a union that represents many teachers across the state, cited the scores as evidence the state needs to devote more resources to schools.