Parents were demonized for demanding schools reopen sooner. Now, we know they were right.

You can't say we didn't warn you.

In 2020 and 2021, parents across the United States said repeatedly and passionately that keeping schools closed because of the pandemic would hurt student achievement. Now, the results are in – and they're not good.

The National Center for Education Statistics recently released its assessment of reading and math scores for America's 9-year-old students. This year, average scores fell 5 points in reading and 7 points in math compared with 2020. It's the largest decline in reading scores in three decades and the first drop in math ever recorded.

It didn’t have to be this way.

When COVID-19 began

Even if, in the first weeks of the pandemic, school administrators felt obligated to close classroom doors in spring 2020, improved understanding of the coronavirus – including the fact that COVID-19 disproportionately endangers senior citizens rather than school age children – meant that most schools could have found a way to reopen safely by the fall.

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Instead, many districts kept schools closed, or in limbo, for the remainder of 2020, and in some cases through much of calendar year 2021. The combination of quarantine rules and limited days of in-person learning posed hardships for working parents and their children.

Even as consultants at McKinsey and Co. released a study in December 2020 noting that students could lose an average five to nine months of learning – with students of color falling the furthest behind – many districts kept their doors shut.

In early 2021, 1 in 5 schools offered only remote instruction. Even at the end of the 2020-21 academic year, only 54% of schools offered a traditional in-person learning experience five days a week.

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Coming: state-by-state breakdowns of student test scores

In its analysis, the Department of Education said the NCES results “cannot be used to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between (school) characteristics or (educational) experiences and student achievement.” But the release of state-by-state breakdowns of student test scores in the coming months will tell the tale.

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If students in states that predominantly kept schools closed and locked down – like California – suffered greater learning losses than students in states like Florida that quickly reopened their schools, it would speak volumes regarding the damage that lockdowns inflicted on educational achievement.

Rather than preventing harmful lockdowns and demanding that schools reopen, the Biden administration instead decided to attack parents who had the temerity to express opposition to school districts' mask mandates. After the Biden White House received a letter from the National School Boards Association likening the protests and threats to “a form of domestic terrorism,” Attorney General Merrick Garland even issued a memo instructing federal prosecutors to develop "strategies for addressing (the) threats."

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School boards should have listened to parents

Neither the Justice Department nor the school boards association should have spent a single second demonizing parents who exercised their constitutional rights. Instead of attacking parents, school boards should have spent more time listening to them and safely reopen their schools much more swiftly than they did.

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Unfortunately, parents can take little solace in saying, “I told you so.” With the learning losses they have suffered, students could pay the price for school boards’ wrong-headed decisions for years, if not decades, to come.

But at least the test results confirm what most parents have felt for the past two years: Never again should we lock children out of the classroom.

Mary Vought is founder of Vought Strategies and a visiting fellow at Independent Women’s Forum. Follow her on Twitter: @MaryVought

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID closed schools and kids' learning suffered. NEAP scores prove it