Poor test scores show the effects of school closures, remote learning on students in North Carolina

By David N. Bass

Raleigh, NC – Test results in reading, math, and science for the 2020-21 school year show the effects school closures and remote learning have had on public school students in North Carolina.

According to data released by the N.C. State Board of Education on Wednesday, Sept. 1, student performance was lower in all content areas and grades and courses in 2020-2021 when compared to the 2018-2019 school year, the last year for which data are available. The results show that just 45.4% of K-12 students passed state exams last school year.

“N.C. Association of Educators’ president Tamika Walker Kelly called learning loss a ‘false construct.’ These state test scores demonstrate that it is far from false,” said Dr. Terry Stoops, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation. “Learning loss was the defining characteristic of student performance during the pandemic. The NCAE may be in denial of the facts, but North Carolina families are not.”

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.

In a statement released with the test scores, N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt cautioned that they should be taken with a grain of salt. “We need to remember these results are only a snapshot of a year marked by extreme anomalies and extenuating circumstances,” Truitt said. “To treat these scores as though they are valid indicators of future success or performance would not only be an improper use of these data, but also would be a disservice to our students, teachers, and administrators.”

Also released this week was data on the state’s graduation rate for the class of 2021. The news was less dramatic here: The graduation rate declined marginally from 87.6% in 2020 to 86.9% in 2021.

In August, lawmakers passed a measure, Senate Bill 654, exempting the state from having to assign letter grades to schools, issue school report cards, and identify low-performing schools based on the 2020-2021 academic year. Gov. Roy Cooper signed the bill into law Monday.

Stoops pointed to this latest batch of test scores as proof that North Carolina families need more options in K-12 education.

“Recovery from learning loss demands an all-hands-on-deck approach,” he said. “It’s not just a public school problem. It’s a North Carolina problem. As such, solutions must come from cooperation between public, private, nonprofit, and sectarian institutions. Children, not institutional ‘turf,’ must be our priority going forward.”