A US student follows a remote Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus class while sitting in a community garden near her home, August 14, 2020 in the Boyle Heights neighbourhood of Los Angeles, California. Image Credit: AFP

Students across the US are experiencing setbacks in both math and reading, according to the first authoritative national exam since the pandemic.

The average score declines in mathematics from fourth and eighth graders were the steepest ever recorded in that subject, according to the results released Monday from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NEAP), also known as the nation's report card.

The exam tests a broad sample of students from those grades.

Catastorphic COVID impact

"If left unaddressed, this could alter the trajectories and life opportunities of a whole cohort of young people, potentially reducing their abilities to pursue rewarding and productive careers in mathematics, science and technology," Daniel J. McGrath, acting a associate commissioner for assessment at the National Center for Education Statistics, said in a press release.

The results bring into focus the catastrophic impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on student learning. The federal government made a $123 billion investment in K-12 education focused on the reopening of schools and helping students get back on track.

Math scores decline in 43 US states

Average fourth-grade math scores fell in 43 states, while eighth graders saw declines in 51 states and jurisdictions, according the NAEP. In reading, the average fourth-grade scores dropped in 30 states, and eighth-grade scores slipped in 33 states and jurisdictions.

Declines in eighth-grade math scores were widespread across most racial and ethnic groups, and for students across the performance distribution. Eighth-grade reading scores fell only for White students. Fourth-grade reading scores declined for American Indian, Black, Hispanic and White students.