In Catholic school 4th grade, the average reading score remained at 235 between 2017 and 2019, compared to a two-point decrease in public schools. Average math scores increased by one point from 245 to 246 in Catholic schools, paralleling a public school increase from 239 to 240. In science, 4th grade students decreased from 167 to 164 between 2015 and 2019, reflecting a similar 3 point decrease in the public schools from 153 to 150.
“To sum up, the falling [science] scores of 4th grade students should be a wake up call for the nation,” said Cary Sneider, former member of the National Assessment Governing Board, in a press conference Tuesday.
Sneider suggested additional time for science in the school day as well as professional learning opportunities for teachers as one way to combat the decrease.
For Catholic schools, providing extra support is one way to continue achieving at high levels, said Sister Dale.
“We expect all kids to do well, to do the best that they can,” she said. “If it takes involving families, if it takes involving teachers for extra help, that’s what we’re there for.”
The current NAEP data was collected before the pandemic. No data was collected in 2021 because of the varied formats of learning during COVID-19. The next assessments will take place in 2022.
When asked about potential impacts of the pandemic during Tuesday’s press conference, James Lynn Woodworth, commissioner for the National Center for Education Statistics, said, “It’s reasonable to believe that the impact of covid will likely have a negative effect on achievement for students.”
“Once we see what impacts are, then we can start to look at ways to address the changes and the differences,” he said.
Sister Dale expects a similar impact on Catholic school student achievement, but she remains hopeful.
“The pandemic occurred for many of our schools during the first week of our spring break,” she said. “By the time break was over, teachers were ready to go and all students were online. In the fall, 92 percent of our schools were open.”
The schools that were not open in the fall of 2020 were not able to open because of state or local district guidelines, she said.
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“We stand by our reputation of providing excellent academic opportunities for kids, along with spiritual development,” she said.
Autumn Jones was a staff writer with Catholic News Agency through 2021. She is a graduate of Gonzaga University and the University of Colorado. She is based in Denver.