The Perfect Enemy | NYC schools face stark drops in math proficiency in wake of COVID-19 pandemic
December 9, 2022
Read Time:3 Minute

New York City schools faced stark drops in math in the first release of state test scores since the COVID-19 pandemic, while reading scores remained steady.

Results from the city Education Department released on Wednesday showed a 1.6 percentage point rise in English language arts proficiency and a 7.6 point drop in math competency between 2019 and 2022, with just 38 percent of kids in grades 3-8 being proficient in the subject last year, according to data collected from third through eighth grade exam scores.

About 46 percent of students were math proficient before the pandemic and the last time the exams were given to most of the city’s schoolchildren. 

SEE THE CHART: SHARP DECLINES IN MATH AND READING SCORES DURING COVID

Students wear face masks and are seated with empty desks separating them from their classmates in a 2nd grade class at School 16 in Yonkers, N.Y., Oct. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File) (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

First Deputy Chancellor Dan Weisberg said in a statement that the results are “complicated by the pandemic,” noting how much of an impact it particularly had on minority students. 

“While results are complicated by the pandemic, the results reflect hard work by our students, families and educators during a difficult time,” Weisberg said. “They also reflect opportunity gaps and outcomes in particular for Black and Hispanic students as well as students with disabilities and English-language learners that are unacceptable.”

About 36 percent and 37 percent of Black and Hispanic students passed the English test, compared to 67 percent and 71 percent of White and Asian students. In math, 21 percent and 23 percent of Black and Hispanic students passed, while 59 percent and 68 percent White and Asian schoolkids were proficient. 

Masked students receive an in-person art lesson at Yung Wing School P.S. 124 on January 05, 2022, in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Masked students receive an in-person art lesson at Yung Wing School P.S. 124 on January 05, 2022, in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images) (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

New York educators noted that it may be difficult to truly gauge how city schoolchildren are faring, considering roughly 25 percent fewer kids took the standardized tests in the spring of 2022 compared to 2019.   

“It’s really, really hard to make any claims about trends in performance,” Aaron Pallas, a professor of education at Columbia University Teachers College, told Yahoo! News. “The pandemic really disrupted that.” 

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The test results have Mayor Eric Adams’ critics reviving their calls he restore recent funding cuts for education. City Council members said in June they didn’t notice until after approving the city budget they had approved the reduction in school funding and passed a resolution earlier this month calling on Adams and the city’s Department of Education to restore $469 million in school funding. 

“After hearing from principals and other community leaders that they need additional time to adjust to the decline in enrollment, this administration announced a package of $150 million in additional support for schools,” a spokesperson for Adams said in response. “Further, we have allocated all federal stimulus dollars to critical programs and needs. We look forward to opening our schools with the resources they need to ensure our students thrive.”

New York Mayor Eric Adams speaks during a news conference at City Hall in New York City, U.S., January 24, 2022. 

New York Mayor Eric Adams speaks during a news conference at City Hall in New York City, U.S., January 24, 2022.  (REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

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National math and reading scores appear to be even bleaker. Recent data released by the National Center for Education Statistics revealed the largest score drop in reading among 9-year-old students since 1990, and the first-ever score drop in mathematics among the same age group. 

“Average scores for age 9 students in 2022 declined 5 points in reading and 7 points in mathematics compared to 2020,” the Department of Education said. “This is the largest average score decline in reading since 1990, and the first ever score decline in mathematics.” 

Pandemic-related school closures not only interrupted students’ academic success, studies have found, but parents across the country have been candid about how forced at-home learning also hurt many kids’ physical and mental well-being.