Photo 2 Students in St. Dominic School, Brick, take a break from learning for a quick picture.  The Ocean County school's test scores are in the “nation’s report card.” Facebook photo.
Photo 2 Students in St. Dominic School, Brick, take a break from learning for a quick picture. The Ocean County school's test scores are in the “nation’s report card.” Facebook photo.

In October, parents and educators received statistical confirmation of what they had long suspected –the pandemic years took a profoundly negative toll on student learning. But new educational findings have revealed that this is not the case with Catholic school learners.

Results released Oct. 24 from the National Assessment of Education Progress, known as the “nation’s report card,” show that Catholic schools have done remarkably well in mitigating learning loss resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and related challenges.

This first national study of the pandemic’s impact on learning, the 2022 NAEP, a biennial report of the U.S. Department of Education, tested hundreds of thousands of fourth and eighth graders across the country, revealing an unprecedented decline in average scores for public school students coming out of the pandemic.

Comparing results from 2019 and 2022, NAEP indicated reading and math scores declined in public and charter schools for grades 4 and 8 for the majority of states. Average national reading scores reverted to 1992 levels, and math scores had the most significant declines ever recorded for that subject.

In contrast, Catholic schools showed a slight increase (1 point) in 8th grade reading and maintained levels for 4th grade math at achievement levels already higher than public schools. Catholic schools saw declines in 8th grade math and 4th grade reading, though declines were less than those in public and charter schools.

In a response to Dr. Vincent de Paul Schmidt, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, Dr. Peggy G. Carr, commissioner, National Center for Education Statistics, stated, “It’s clear that the pandemic disruption was a major factor impeding achievement on the 2022 NAEP exams, for a host of reasons that affected schools, families, and communities. Nationally, we experienced declines between 2019 and 2022 in both mathematics and reading, at both grades assessed, grades 4 and 8.

“But,” she continued, “Catholic schools generally fared better than the nation. Catholic schools held steady in all but mathematics at grade 8, where they experienced declines similar to the nation as a whole.”

Mission of Catholic Education

Dr. Schmidt observed that the heart of the Catholic school response to the pandemic was, first, an intentional dedication to mission, which lessened the effects of learning loss.

“Our schools are successful because they have always been based on support from local parishes. They are a community, with great support from parents, the students themselves, dedicated staff of the Catholic schools and the pastors all working together,” he stressed.

Data show that, in spite of declines, Catholic school scores exceed public school scores by 11-20 points in each of those four testing areas. News reports share that researchers consider a 10-point gain or decline as equivalent to roughly a year of learning.

The National Catholic Educational Association also shared NAEP findings that Catholic schools “are near the top in learning outcomes for students receiving free and reduced-price lunch, demonstrating the system’s commitment to underprivileged students.”

One of the reasons Catholic schools performed so well, said NCEA president Lance Snyder, is that “our teachers showed up for the kids. In every state, we were among the first to transition to distance learning, and after that brief time, also among the first to return students to a safe in-person environment.”

NCEA reported that more than 90 percent of Catholic schools opened safely, in person, five days a week with hybrid options during the pandemic, compared to approximately 56 percent of public schools.

Daniel T. O’Connell, diocesan associate director for Curriculum and Development, recalled that in the Diocese of Trenton, schools locked down in the spring of 2020 were reopened in September of that year “with precautionary measures in place and were ready both to protect and to educate the children of central New Jersey. Parents had the option to keep their children home and allow them to attend school virtually, but our schools were open and ready to welcome back our students.”

O’Connell also acknowledged that, while pandemic challenges resulted in some gaps in the learning process, “our teachers and principals accepted the challenge to bring our students up to speed. … By opening our schools in September 2020, we gave our students the ability to save the time that they might have lost.”

Local Participation

Among those Catholic schools who were part of a nationally representative sampling, the NAEP assessment benefitted from the participation of five schools in the Diocese of Trenton: Sacred Heart, Mount Holly; St. Ann, Lawrenceville; St. Gregory the Great Academy, Hamilton Square; St. Rose of Lima, Freehold, and St. Dominic, Brick.

Participating “was an honor," said Elizabeth Tonkovich, St. Dominic principal, noting that "we wanted to show what Catholic school students across the nation know and can do.”

St. Ann principal, Salvatore Chiaravalloti, observed, “We were able to quickly adjust and work as school teams to provide necessary instruction to continue the progress of our students’ education. I feel, and believe the results show, we managed the challenges COVID threw at us much better and quicker than our public school counterparts.”

Cynthia Reimer, St. Rose of Lima principal, regards the participation of Catholic schools in NAEP as “an important tool in continuing the pursuit of exclaiming the academically excellent component of the Catholic school community. … We consider parents to be our partners, and an integral part of the educational success of their children. It’s time for our schools to be recognized nationally.”

To read the NAEP report visit