How Can Schools Combat the Decline in National Student Math & Reading Scores?

Mature teacher assisting to her elementary student in using laptop on computer class at school.

The latest National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP, paints a dire picture for students in the United States regarding reading and math performance. The COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact on schools and how we teach students, causing test scores to plummet to levels not seen in decades. Of course, this is not surprising given the massive changes in educational practices that students experienced during the pandemic. The question now is, how do we build back to where we were and accelerate learning? 

Fortunately for educators, there are resources and technology available to help close the gap and get students back on track. This does mean, however, that educators may need to reconsider traditional teaching methods and opt for a more nuanced and modern approach to teaching. In the end, the goal is to allow all students to meet their full potential and get students to a point where they are proficient in these competencies. 

Understanding the Decline in NAEP Scores

The NAEP math and reading scores are considered the “nation’s report card,” and they are given to students around the world each year. The test was given in the past year for the first time since the onset of COVID, providing a tremendous insight into how the pandemic impacted students. The results were not good. 

In every corner of the United States, students lost ground in reading and math. This decline was seen in wealthy areas, poor areas, white students, black students, Hispanic students, and both boys and girls. High-achieving students were less impacted than struggling learners, however, their scores too, declined. While reading scores dropped, it was in math where the impact was most strongly felt, with over 38% of 8th graders scoring below basic – a 7% increase from 2019 scores. 

While these findings are certainly shocking and give a window into the impact of COVID on students, it is also important to understand what this information means and how teachers can use it to move forward. For teachers, this means that students may need more skill development than in the past, and they may not be starting at the same level as students in pre-pandemic times. By using in-class assessment data and adjusting instruction to meet the needs of individual students, teachers ensure that students are progressing and making up lost ground in reading and math. 

Of course, a drop in reading and math scores will also impact other content areas as well, as many other subjects rely on math and reading as a foundation for learning. For teachers in all subjects and age groups, it is important to keep literacy and math skills in mind when teaching and scaffolding lessons to ensure that all students can learn the content. Technology can help teachers to meet the needs of many students at one time, by planning using Universal Design Principles and implementing lessons with a variety of places for students to enter and engage with the learning. In doing so student engagement is raised and more learning and growth occur. 

How can Technology Help Engage Students in Math and Reading?

Technology plays a huge role in helping to engage students in both math and reading. In math in the United States, many learners have an apprehension around math, they feel like they simply are not good at math. However, technology may give students the opportunity to make mistakes, learn, and grow without the fear that comes with traditional teaching methods in math.

With assessment technology platforms such as TAO, teachers can develop digital learning tasks using Portable Custom Interactions (PCIs) that allow teachers to gamify testing and create authentic questions for students. For reading and math, this means that students can learn in more creative and engaging ways than simply sitting down with a textbook and studying. 

The open source Geogbra PCI, created by our partner at Wiquid, is one interaction type that is designed to easily integrate into the TAO assessment platform. Using this PCI, educators can impart any number of complex, multi-step mathematical simulations directly into a digital test to engage students all while collecting rich problem-solving data. 

For teachers, technology also makes assigning leveled readings or different adaptive assessment tasks easy and seamless. This means students can work and grow at a pace and level that is individualized rather than being given assignments that are too easy or too difficult. By ensuring that the lessons and tests are leveled appropriately, teachers can improve engagement in both reading and math. 


Student test scores in reading and math declined sharply from pre-COVID data. This is not surprising considering the large disruption in learning and teaching that the pandemic brought. However, now that students are back in the classroom and learning has resumed in a more normal way, it is important for educators and district-level officials to think about how to accelerate students back on track. 

Although this is a big and challenging task, there are resources and tools available to help. TAO offers an end-to-end suite of tools designed to engage students in all subject areas for any type of assessment. At the same time by leveraging and analyzing student data based on student responses and question type, educators can accurately identify areas of strength and areas of growth. This targeted instruction and assessment can improve student learning and test scores. To learn more about how Open Assessment Technologies can help your students to grow, click here.

learn more about TAO digital assessment platform integrations and tools for measuring 21st century skills and improving student testing scores.