Research

Falling Math Scores May Cut Future Earnings

Scores on 8th grade standardized math tests dropped during the pandemic, reversing a large part of the gains students had made since the 1990s. U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona called the news last October “appalling.”

But declining scores only confirmed for many parents what they had witnessed as their children struggled to engage in classes conducted over Zoom when the schools were closed down.

Now comes some of the fallout. The decline in math scores between 2019 and 2022 is expected to reduce the lifetime earnings for the average student by nearly 2 percent, or $19,400 in today’s dollars, according to a new study.

This may not sound like a lot spread out over a decades-long career. But think about it this way: after years of rising test scores and incomes, recent 8th graders may lose several hundred dollars a year in income just because they grew up during a pandemic.

And the impact of being competent in mathematics goes beyond lost earnings. Lower test scores lead to lower graduation rates, fewer kids in college, and more teen pregnancies, arrests and incarceration. So, it’s important to make sure these kids make up for lost time by improving their test scores during high school.

The estimate of lost earnings was based on a well-established historical relationship between rising 8th grade math scores in the 1990s through the early 2000s under the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which the U.S. Department of Education uses to track students’ learning. The researchers used the increase in earnings from the previous rise in scores to gauge the negative impact on future earnings from declining math scores during COVID.

The students whose learning suffered in the pandemic can still rebound from this setback. But it will require persistence by students and some really good math teachers.

Squared Away writer Kim Blanton invites you to follow us on Twitter @SquaredAwayBC. To stay current on our blog, please join our free email list. You’ll receive just one email each week – with links to the two new posts for that week – when you sign up here.  This blog is supported by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. 

One Response to Falling Math Scores May Cut Future Earnings

  1. It is hard to fathom that the consequences of the pandemic will have an impact 30, 40, 50 years from now. You might be right – but not a very nice thought.

    Now we just have to hope there will not be another close down.

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