Special Report

21 States Where Students Score The Worst on Reading Tests

Over two years have passed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and its effects continue to extend far beyond public health. A recent report released by the National Assessment of Educational Progress reveals a staggering decline in math and reading skills among the nation’s fourth and eighth grade students. 

Specifically, the share of fourth-graders and the share of eighth-graders who are considered proficient in reading each fell by 3 percentage points since 2019, the last time the standardized test was administered. While there is no single explanation for the trend, experts attribute the historic decline primarily to the disruptions stemming from the pandemic. (Here is a look at the best places to teach in America.) 

Based on the latest NAEP test results, also known as the nation’s report card, only 33% of fourth-graders and 31% of eighth-graders are proficient in reading. In some states, reading proficiency rates are even lower. 

Using data from the NAEP, 24/7 Wall St. identified the states where students score the worst in reading. States are ranked on an average for fourth-and eighth-grade reading proficiency rates. In the case of a tie, the state that spends less on education per pupil ranks lower. In the 21 states on this list, average reading proficiency among fourth- and eighth-graders is below 30%. 

In 2021, the federal government invested $123 billion in public education to help students catch up in the wake of the pandemic. The latest test results reveal it may take billions more. While the link between per pupil spending and student outcomes is complicated, most of the states on this list invest less on a per student basis in their education system than most other states, according to the latest data from the Department of Education. (Here is a look at how much each state spends on public schools.)

Miquel Cardona, the secretary of education, summed up what is at stake in improving reading and math proficiency. “This is a moment of truth for education,” he said. “How we respond to this will determine not only our recovery, but our nation’s standing in the world.”

Click here to see 21 states where students score the worst on reading tests.

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