San Diego Unified headquarters
Eugene Brucker Education Center is the headquarters of the San Diego Unified School District. File photo

San Diego Unified School District announced Monday that a U.S. Department of Education report found that reading scores for its fourth-and eighth-grade students were largely unchanged since 2019, while math results declined.

California public schools showed similar results, while public schools across the United States also saw declines in reading and math for both tested grade levels, according to the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card.

Large cities with populations of 250,000 or more declined in fourth-grade reading and in math for both grade levels, and had flat scores for eighth-grade reading, according to a San Diego Unified School District news release.

In math, district fourth-graders went from 42% NAEP-proficient in 2019 to 34% this year, according to the report. For eighth-graders, NAEP proficiency rates fell from 35% to 28%. SDUSD said results mirror California state testing results, where math declined more sharply than reading.

In the reading category, all district student groups — disability, English Learner, gender, income eligibility and race/ethnicity — showed relatively flat results for both grade levels, SDUSD said.

According to San Diego Unified, although most student groups showed declines in both grade levels in math, there were exceptions: Fourth- and eighth-grade Asian/Pacific Islander students and eighth-grade Latino students had unchanged math results in 2022 compared with 2019.

Both grades in the highest performance band — those in the 90th percentile or top 10 percent — also had unchanged math results. San Diego Unified Superintendent Lamont Jackson said the district needs to do better, “but these results demonstrate that our students and educators are resilient. Our students are back in the classroom, and that is a critical first step that we need to acknowledge.”

“We have to remember that the pandemic required our schools, students and educators to pivot,” Jackson added. “We implemented robust safety measures to protect our school communities, such as HVAC filtration systems, face masks and protocols for contact tracing — all while maintaining the continuity of student instruction, and providing access to school meals and internet connectivity.”

Raymond C. Hart, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, said the NAEP data, collected at the peak of the COVID-19 Omicron variant wave, reflects the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact.

“In reading at grades four and eight, San Diego maintained pre-pandemic scores, in contrast with the nation, which saw declines at both grades,” Hart said. “The changes in San Diego’s mathematics scores are consistent with the nation, California, and other large cities.”

“Sustaining achievement in any grade or subject in the face of a global crisis is no easy feat and is testament to San Diego’s academic continuity planning during the crisis, as well as their proactive recovery efforts when schools reopened,” Hart said. “Specifically, the district continued with their multi-pronged literacy approach, which has yielded gains over time.”

San Diego Unified has enacted academic and mental health initiatives to help students affected by the pandemic. Fabiola Bagula, the district’s deputy superintendent, said that the current narrative and urgency of “learning loss” needs to be challenged.

“Yes, there was an across-the-board loss,” Bagula said. “Yet, as we were all simultaneously experiencing this loss, the public school system was one of the first major organizations to quickly pivot and step into the responsibility that we have always held. We have been teaching our students and changing our practices to meet the needs of the day. We have implemented many strategies to help support each and every student, and we understand the impact of COVID and quarantine on the social lives of our children.”

To help students recover, San Diego Unified officials said initiatives include:

  • expanded early education programs, including universal transitional kindergarten
  • extended learning opportunities outside the classroom
  • subject-area supports for enhanced literacy, mathematics and other subjects
  • expanded visual and performing arts instruction and opportunities
  • making standards-based grading, learning and teaching a priority

First administered in 1969, NAEP is a congressionally mandated assessment supervised by the U.S. Department of Education. It also covers science and writing.

More details on San Diego Unified scores and information on NAEP are available at

City News Service contributed to this article.