Global Math and Reading Assessment Indicates Widespread Post-Pandemic Learning Loss

students in class | Photo 36904873 © Tyler Olson |

A recent global assessment of 15-year-olds’ math and reading skills shows that the United States lags far behind its peer nations in math while performing unexpectedly well in reading. The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test compares students from over 100 countries. The results from the 2022 test, the first since the pandemic, show major declines in American students’ math performance and a surprising stability in reading scores.

American students’ math performance has long lagged behind other countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a group of 38 industrialized countries primarily comprising nations in Europe and Asia. This trend continued in 2022, with the U.S. ranking 28th out of 37 OECD countries, scoring an average of 465 points on the test—7 points lower than the average score for OECD countries

U.S. scores declined sharply from 2018, the last time the test was administered before the pandemic, with scores dipping 13 points. But while this decline is concerning, it pales in comparison to the overall decline across OECD countries, whose average score decline was 17 points.

And this decline continued in OECD reading scores. Between 2018 and 2022, the OECD average reading score declined 9 points, while U.S. scores only declined a single point. In all, U.S. students had one of the lowest score declines among OCED countries. Only four countries—Korea, Israel, Italy, and Japan—saw improvements in reading scores between 2018 and 2022, while 18 OCED countries saw double-digit declines.

The United States’ performance on the PISA reading test is surprising, given documented declines in U.S. student reading performance following the pandemic. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also called the “Nation’s Report Card,” recently found historic declines in reading scores among 13-year-olds between 2020 and 2023.

It is unclear why American students’ reading scores on the PISA test remained stable while other countries, with varying pandemic school closure policies, performed worse. However, considering the numerous other comprehensive examinations showing U.S. math and reading declines, even greater declines among peer nations indicate a staggering volume of global post-pandemic learning loss.

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