Explore the Increasing Disparity in Student Achievement Across States

By Chad Aldeman
February 26, 2024

Student performance scores declined post-COVID-19, a widely covered narrative

Less mainstream yet significant is the decade of declining achievement scores pre-pandemic

From around 2013, performance scores across grade levels saw a decline post-peak

An alarming trend is the widening performance gap among top and bottom achievers, masked by averages

The pre-existing widening performance gap has been exacerbated by the pandemic, compounding the issue

On Feb. 9, 2012, the then-President Barack Obama welcomed key education stakeholders to the White House’s East Room, heralding a pivotal moment where education policy took a significant turn.

During this event, Obama unveiled his decision to grant statewide waivers from the stringent federal No Child Left Behind Act (disclosure: the author played a role in this initiative at the U.S. Department of Education and attended the event). This move, in exchange for a set of educational reforms focusing on standards, assessments, and teacher evaluations, relieved states from the most burdensome NCLB accountability regulations.

This action marked the belief in a departure from the universal “adequate yearly progress” for all students and student groups, opting for tailored state-led interventions for struggling schools.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan at a 2012 briefing on No Child Left Behind, Washington, D.C. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

The stringent accountability structures of NCLB played a pivotal role in incremental yet noteworthy academic gains over a decade. These advancements, particularly in eighth-grade math, showed an improvement of approximately 8 points for both low and high performers from 2003 to 2013 on the NAEP assessment.

Obama’s relaxation of educational accountability policies catalyzed a decline in academic achievement nationally. By the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015, the diminishment in achievement was already evident.

Moreover, the performance erosions were not uniform. During the period of 2013 to 2019, scores for the lowest-performing 10% of students witnessed a 7-point drop, contrasting with a 3-point increase for high achievers. This pre-COVID trend of divergent performance trajectories set the stage for broader performance discrepancies exacerbated by the pandemic.

Presently, academic divides are deepening across subjects and geographical regions in the U.S. Nearly all states, the District of Columbia, and a majority of large metropolitan areas participating in the NAEP show escalating achievement disparities. Explore the interactive visualization below to track these dynamic changes within states and cities.

NAEP Math Scores

Select a state or city below for detailed insights

Discover the interactive chart on The 74’s platform
National AverageAlabamaAlaskaArizonaArkansasCalifornia-Los Angeles, CA-San Diego, CADistrict of ColumbiaColoradoConnecticutDelawareDistrict of ColumbiaDoDEAFloridaGeorgia-Atlanta, GAHawaiiIdahoIllinois-Chicago, ILIndianaIowaKansasKentuckyLouisianaMaineMarylandMassachusetts-Boston, MAMichiganMinnesotaMississippiMissouriMontanaNebraskaNevadaNew HampshireNew JerseyNew MexicoNew York-New York City, NYNorth Carolina-Charlotte, NCNorth DakotaOhio-Cleveland, OHOklahomaOregonPennsylvaniaRhode IslandSouth CarolinaSouth DakotaTennesseeTexas-Houston, TXUtahVermontVirginiaWashingtonWest VirginiaWisconsinWyoming

Change in 8th grade math scores
2003 – 20132013 – 2022
2013 – 2022
  • All Students
  • Higher Performing Students
  • Lower Performing Students

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