By David Bass
New test results show that public school students in North Carolina are improving learning outcomes since returning to in-classroom instruction, but progress is still needed to reach pre-pandemic levels of achievement.
Released by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction on Sept. 1, the new results are the first since the 2018-2019 school year to feature all the components of the state’s accountability framework. They provide an important picture of where student achievement stands after the closure of classrooms and switch to virtual learning during the pandemic.
“Last year’s accountability results are really a testament to the resilience, dedication and commitment of thousands of educators across the state,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt in a statement. “They know as I do that we still have a steep hill to climb and that every step matters.”
“There is no doubt that these results highlight the heroic efforts of educators across our state,
“Predictably, proficiency rates are not back to pre-lockdown levels, but it is unequivocally good news that statewide reading and math test scores rebounded in 2021-22,” said Dr. Terry Stoops, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation. “Kudos to our classroom educators who prioritized raising student achievement amidst pressure by teacher unions and advocacy organizations to discount the importance of test scores and other quantitative measures of academic performance. Superintendent Truitt and state education leaders recognize that learning recovery is a multi-year process. I believe they are up to the long-term task of cleaning up the mess left by irresponsible elected officials who shuttered North Carolina public schools during the pandemic.”
The student achievement data is based on an analysis of all end-of-grade and end-of-course tests. The data show the percentage of students who scored at level 3 and above (grade level proficiency), level 4 and above (college and career readiness), and at each academic achievement level.
The 2021-2022 school year data show that scores increased from 2020-2021 in all grade levels — 3rd through 8th grade — in both reading and math. The only except was for 3rd grade reading proficiency for level 4, which dropped 6.6% from the previous school year.
As for the graduation rate, that remained stabled at 86.2%, a slight decline from 87% in 2020-2021 but mostly unchanged from 86.5% in 2018-2019.
Average ACT standardized test scores for 11th graders also remained stable from pre-pandemic numbers. University of North Carolina campuses now require a minimum ACT score of 19 to be admitted, compared to the previous minimum score of 17. The percentage achieving the new minimum score was 41.7% compared to 55.2% in 2020-2021. But if the benchmark had remained the same, 54.6% students would have earned the required score.
The state’s calculation of A-F school performance grades and growth designations also returned this year after being suspended during the pandemic. The number of low-performing schools — those that received a D or F grade —increased significantly from the 2018-2019 school year, from 488 schools to 864 schools. The number of low-performing districts also jumped from eight to 29.
The A-F grading system is heavily dependent on test scores — to the tune of 80% depending on those scores — with the remaining 20% based on growth scale measured across several years.