Results of national education assessments released last week showed unprecedented drops in academic achievement in fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading scores, but black, Hispanic, and low-income Catholic school students outperformed their counterparts in national, charter, and public school averages.

Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” revealed a dramatic decline in test scores from 2019, when students were last tested.

“A majority of states saw scores decline for fourth- and eighth-graders in mathematics and reading between 2019 and 2022,” the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) said in a press statement. “The national average score declines in mathematics for fourth- and eighth-graders were the largest ever recorded in that subject.”

NCES continued about the dire outcome:

There were no improvements in mathematics in any state or large urban district, and eighth-grade mathematics scores declined in 51 participating states and jurisdictions since the assessment was last given in 2019, the year prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.

“The results show the profound toll on student learning during the pandemic, as the size and scope of the declines are the largest ever in mathematics,” added NCES Commissioner Peggy G. Carr.

“But amid the bad news, Catholic schools were a bright spot, reflecting how these schools are making a difference in students’ lives,” Kathleen Porter-Magee, superintendent of Partnership Schools, a management organization that runs 11 Catholic schools in New York City and Cleveland, wrote in an op-ed at The Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

COVID school closures, insisted upon by the teachers’ unions and their allies in the Democrat Party, clearly set America’s students behind, but even Carr acknowledged in 2019 U.S. students had already been in decline for years.

“Over the past decade, there has been no progress in either mathematics or reading performance,” she wrote then. “The lowest performing students – those readers who struggle the most – have made no progress in reading from the first NAEP administration almost 30 years ago.”

Porter-Magee noted that, as far as the pandemic closures go, Catholic schools “were among the first to close in March 2020,” but, after acknowledging the real science that showed children were the least likely to become seriously ill from the virus, 92 percent of them reopened for in-person learning the following fall, while only 43 percent of traditional government schools and 34 percent of charters did the same.

An adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute, Porter-Magee tweeted following the release of the NAEP scores, “If Catholic schools were a state, they’d be the highest performing in the nation on all four NAEP tests.”

She explained further at the WSJ:

The average score among fourth-graders in Catholic schools was 233, 17 points higher than the national public-school average, or about 1½ grade levels ahead. In eighth-grade reading, the average score for Catholic school students was 279, 20 points higher than the national public-school average, or about two grade levels ahead.

The NAEP test scores among black Catholic school students rose by 10 points, while their counterparts in government schools lost 5 points and those in charter schools dropped 8 points, Porter-Magee noted, adding that Hispanic students in Catholic schools also outperformed those in public schools:

Catholic schools lead the nation for Hispanic achievement on each of the four tests, and lead the nation in black student achievement on three of the four. They also rank first in eighth-grade reading and third in both fourth-grade reading and fourth-grade math for students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch.

Left-wing educrats who promised Common Core would shrink the achievement gap dismiss the success of Catholic school students, claiming they are another example of wealthy white people, aka “white privilege,” who can afford a private school. The call for yet even higher levels of federal funding for government-run schools that have been in decline for years was heard from Joe Biden’s Education Secretary Miguel Cardona as a means to improve the situation.

“But K-8 Catholic schools are the only private elementary schools in America that serve the urban poor at scale,” Porter-Magee observed. “The average annual tuition for a K-8 Catholic school is $5,300—about one-third what states spend per child on public schools.”

She credits parents’ choice for a Catholic school education for their children as a major part of the success of these students during a difficult period when most others showed a decline in academic performance.

Writing at The Lion, Joe Herring observed while public education has been focused on “systemic racism,” the “system” that has had the greatest impact in Catholic schools is more families with both a mother and father – parents who encourage academic achievement as a high priority.

“These circumstances are increasingly absent in modern American society,” he wrote, adding:

Catholic schools have shrugged off the relentless educational faddishness that so thoroughly distracts the public schools. Finding their footing on a firmer foundation, Catholic schools have prioritized responsibility, accountability and achievement, in stark contrast to the public-school grails of indoctrination, gender ideology and social activism.

“There is no alternative to competency, and no surer way to achieve it than through an educational system that knows what it believes and why,” Herring asserted. “How can public schools ground their students in shared competency when they can scarcely decipher the difference between the boys’ and girls’ restrooms on any given day?”

For Porter-Magee, the national test scores are yet further evidence of the success of Catholic schools.

“While many political leaders called the learning losses inevitable, the performance of Catholic schools in this difficult time shows that they weren’t,” she wrote. “During the pandemic, we didn’t lower our standards or accept falling enrollment as inevitable. What we needed then and need now is to empower all parents to choose the best school for their children, and to have leaders who set the bar high and insist we reach it for all our kids.”

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Susan Berry, PhD, is national education editor at The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].