“I’ll be blunt,” said Assistant Superintendent Pete Bavis.

“The pandemic did not change reading achivement, but it has had a significant impact on math in a very real way.”

Bavis presented some troubling statistics to the Evanston Township/District 202 Board of Education earlier this month, showing an across-the-board decline in math scores for all student groups since the school went on COVID-related remote learning for parts of 2020 and 2021.

Assistant Superintendent Pete Bavis at school board meeting February 6.

Bavis said the drop in math scores can be seen “in everything from freshmen taking algebra … all the way through our advanced math classes and everything in between.”

The numbers come from standardized MAP tests which are taken by 8th graders before entering high school, and the SATs, taken by high school juniors, and cover several years worth of data.

For example, the mean MAP test scores in math for 8th graders who took the exam pre-pandemic (2019) was 245.6. But for those taking it in the pandemic year of 2020, the mean score dropped to 241.5. But even when kids came back to the building, the downward slope continued, with a mean of 240.0 for those testing during the current academic calendar.

The same trend can be seen in the SATs. For 2020 grads, who took the SAT before schools shut for the pandemic, the mean score was 555.7. For the class of 2022, it was 538.8, and the class of 2023 it dropped to 522.7.

Several questions stand out.

First, why did reading scores stay even, while math declined?

The short answer is that experts really don’t know.

Bavis suggested that unlike reading, which children can practice on their own at home, math instruction is usually more formal, in the classroom.

He noted that the added stress of the pandemic may have compounded some students’ “math anxiety.” And, he indicated that it may have been more of a challenge for teachers to present math instruction via Zoom rather than in person.

The next question is what can be done to reverse the math score decline, and not just test scores for their own sake, but rather scores which indicate students understand the material?

“It requires a different mindset in instruction,” Bavis said, “with a willingness to allow kids to explore.”

For example, ETHS now has a data science class, where students use math to analyze local issues and problems.

A course like that, Bavis said, is a way to “break the mold,” and get students involved in real-life math applications, and not just the same old algebra and geometry required by the state.

And the third question is does the racial achievement gap still exist between white, Black, and Hispanic students, whenever the tests were taken?

The answer there, even when white student results declined as well, is still “yes,” by a fairly large margin, with Black students on average scoring 80 to 90 points lower than whites on the math SATs.

So then what?

Board member Pat Maunsell wondered if this was not “a moment to say ‘blow it up.’ What are we doing wrong?”

Maunsell then said that was a bit too harsh, but still the issue remains “what can we do differently that reaches kids,” particularly kids of color?

Reflecting on the pandemic’s influence on all children, board member Mirah Anti said, “There is a whole new crew of kids who hatched at home, and we really need to figure out a new way” to get them motivated and involved.

Working with numbers, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and statistics may have to be the place to start.

“This is a moment for math,” Anti said.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Join the Conversation


  1. So our D65 response is to dumb down middle school math and make it more difficult for talented math students to access advanced math curricula. Brilliant.

  2. Mr .Bevis asks. “What can be done to reverse the math score decline?” One answer they say is” Break the mold Not just the same old algebra and geometry. Allow kids to explore”! guess there’s new algebra and geometry that these kids can find while they explore. Maybe that’s why District 65’s new math program WIN gives them 20 minutes at the end of math class to explore. And please tell me what the board member means by “We have a new crew of kids who were hatched at home”

    1. She seems to be talking about kids who started high school taking classes at home, over Zoom, due to Covid. But it’s hard to say. Let’s remember that this is the board member who slotted herself into the special reelection lane that involves a write-in candidacy and a two-year term, which essentially guarantees her reelection.

  3. Though they may have flaws, standardized tests provide accountability for what schools are doing. Without those district administrators would always be declaring victory.

  4. This isn’t an Evanston-specific math decline, but happened just about everywhere in every state. Perhaps they should see if other states and districts have any successful solutions. Just a thought.

  5. No surprise this was going to be the result of closing the school for remote “learning” in 20-21. Maybe if the HS stayed open like most of the HS in Illinois students wouldn’t be struggling. These students loss the love of learning because they were isolated and stuck in front of a computer with little support. Students were not held accountable, school admin had to “lower” the bar to make sure kids could pass without any audits of accountability. They created this mess, and at the end of the day academic standards matter. Students didn’t have to really study, learn, not having to be on screen, no excuses sorry, allowed to turn in assignments late, lowering the standards. No Structure! You don’t need to be a parent to know kids need structure. They will not be college ready or HS ready. The last 3 years the administration including the Board has successfully destroyed a top ranking HS. I know many families who moved out of the district due to the lack of support to open up the schools. They wanted their kids in school so they could learn! Kids need to be in school. Consequences of bad decisions. The basics work. Go back to the basics no need to “break the mold”. Good old algebra and geometry required by the state works! ETHS has lost its vision. The district needs new leadership.

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