National test scores hit record lows


The Catalyst / Eva Nichter

CollegeBoard continues to offer multiple testing dates for the SAT, but many students are opting out of putting standardized exam scores on their college applications.

Across the United States, test scores in math and reading have hit historically low levels in 2022. This can be attributed to flaws in national education systems and the impact of the global pandemic on students’ lives.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ report of 2022 proficiency for students of all ages, math scores showed the biggest annual decrease recorded and reading scores reached the lowest levels since 1991.

In California, only 47% of students met English benchmarks and 33% of students met math benchmarks. Both of these percentages have severely decreased since 2019 and the pre-pandemic years of teaching. Compared to the other states in the nation, however, California saw some of the lowest declines.

School closures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic played a major part in these declining scores, and other systemic issues such as accessibility and grade inflation contributed as well.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, most schools nationwide moved classes into asynchronous formats or onto platforms such as Zoom. Schools in low-income areas may not have had the resources to move classes virtually, which would require every student to own a computer, so already many students nationally were put at a disadvantage. For others, virtual learning was not an effective form of education, resulting in many students now falling behind national benchmark levels.

“Online learning made an impact on how much I was learning because we weren’t in a physical classroom,” said senior Kaelin Kockos. “At school, before COVID, we were able to do activities or group projects that would enhance the curriculum and our skills. That all went away with COVID and it became difficult to retain the same amount of information through a computer.”

Grade inflation, in which higher grades are given to levels of accomplishment that were previously receiving lower grades, and a lack of access to rigorous courses are systemic issues that also contribute to the worsening of test scores in post-pandemic years. Students at schools with severe grade inflation may be falling behind more than they thought, and a lack of accessibility to a rigorous course load can create readiness setbacks as students are not receiving the strong academic experience they need to succeed in college.

SAT and ACT scores for high schoolers have also continued to fall, with this year’s data showing the lowest scores of the decade. The National ACT Profile Report for 2022 shows only 22% of students who took the ACT met all four college readiness benchmarks, those being English, Mathematics, Reading and Science.

“The magnitude of the declines this year is particularly alarming, as we see rapidly growing numbers of seniors leaving high school without meeting the college-readiness benchmark in any of the subjects we measure,” said ACT CEO Janet Godwin.

Many high school upperclassmen have opted out of taking college readiness exams such as the SAT and ACT, as most universities are retaining “test optional” policies for the next two to three years. Some schools such as Georgetown University and Georgia Institute of Technology still require standardized testing scores, and other colleges are dropping the testing requirement altogether, such as the University of California system. Many wonder if “test optional” policies have contributed to low scores on SAT and ACT tests.

As test scores continue to drop nationwide, people are turning to their local school systems to demand change and improvement as millions of students nationwide continue to be unprepared for the next steps in their academic careers.