New test results show what many feared: NC students aren't doing well during pandemic


The first round of statewide school test results from this school year are in, and they show that North Carolina students aren't doing as well as they did before the coronavirus pandemic.

Test results that will be shared at Wednesday's State Board of Education meeting show that the majority of high school students did not pass state end-of-course exams given in the fall. The passing rates are also sharply lower on most of those exams than the prior fall, but the state Department of Public Instruction is cautioning against comparing the results.

The test data also show that the majority of third-grade students who took the beginning-of-grade reading exam scored at the lowest level and three quarters aren't proficient in reading.

The results offer the first statewide look at how students are doing academically during the pandemic. Since March 2020, students have received limited or no in-person instruction as schools switched to online classes due to COVID-19.

Before the tests, school districts were reporting lower student grades and student attendance compared to past years. The state House unanimously passed a bill last week requiring school districts to create a summer school program to help students who've suffered learning loss during the pandemic.

"There's a lot of those at-risk children who desperately need this who, if we don't do something, are going to fall further and further behind," House Speaker Tim Moore, one of the bill's primary sponsors, said on the House floor.

High school scores drop

In December and January, high school students across the state took end-of-course exams in biology, English 2, Math 1 and Math 3. Students had to take the exams in-person, even if they were taking all classes online.

The state gave flexibility for when students could take the fall exams, including allowing them to do it as late as this summer. But DPI says 86.3% of the students who were expected to take the exams did so as of Feb. 9.

The majority of students failed the Math 1, Math 3 and biology exams.

In Math 1, 66.4% of test-takers were not proficient. It was 48.2% during the fall 2019-20 semester.

In Math 3, 54.9% of students were not proficient on the test. It was 44.5% the prior fall semester.

In biology, 54.5% of students were not proficient. It was 42.1% the prior fall.

Only in English 2 was there any improvement. This year, 41..4% of students were not proficient compared to 42% the prior fall.

DPI says this fall's data isn't comparable to last fall because students still have until July 5 to take the exams. DPI also says that there could be potential differences in the demographics of the students who took the tests this year compared to last year.

Students behind on reading

As part of the state's Read To Achieve program, third-grade students take the beginning-of-grade reading exam.

The test is usually given within the first 20 days of the school year. But schools are being allowed to wait until March 12 this school year. DPI says this limits any comparisons to prior years.

As of Feb. 9, 67.7% of the third-grade students had taken the beginning-of-grade test.

So far this school year, 58.2% of third-grade students scored a Level I, the lowest rating on the exam. That compares to 49.8% last school year.

Combining Level 1 and Level 2, 75.4% of third-grade students were not reading at a proficient level on the exam. That compares to 73.6% last school year.

The goal is to get the third-grade students at grade level by the time they take the end-of-grade exam.

More tests this spring

Some groups have urged suspending standardized tests this school year because of the pandemic. The exams had been suspended last school year.

But last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced that it would not give testing waivers this school year. Federal officials say that the tests are needed so that both schools and parents can see how students are doing.

The U.S. Department of Education will instead give states more flexibility in how the exams are given. This means North Carolina elementary and middle school students will take end-of-grade exams in reading, math and science this spring. High school students will have to take the end-of-course exams.

"To be successful once schools have re-opened, we need to understand the impact COVID-19 has had on learning and identify what resources and supports students need," Ian Rosenblum, acting assistant U.S. secretary for education, wrote in a Feb. 22 letter to state superintendents.

"We must also specifically be prepared to address the educational inequities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, including by using student learning data to enable states, school districts, and schools to target resources and supports to the students with the greatest needs."


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