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GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – The grade for how well students have learned following the coronavirus pandemic apparently should be an “F.”

The National Assessment of Educational Progress for 2022 was released Monday by the U.S. Department of Education, and it showed that reading and math proficiency had dropped to levels in some cases not seen since the turn of the century.

Too many children faced learning loss during remote learning; This is what Guilford County Schools is doing to change that
Too many children faced learning loss during remote learning; This is what Guilford County Schools is doing to change that

North Carolina is no different from any other state on the average for fourth- and eighth-graders – recording fairly consistent trends with all other states – but those trends are dramatically downward-pointing arrows in the raw scores from 2019 – the last year the test was conducted – and below levels from around the year 2000.

The testing is not comprehensive because participation is voluntary. The NAEP, as it is called, encompassed 1,513,677 in those two grades and included approximately 3,600 students who attend Guilford County Schools.

Whitney Oakley, superintendent at Guilford County Schools. (GCS PHOTO)

“The pandemic has been the most disruptive singular force in education in a century, but the challenges we face are not solely the effect of a global health crisis,” GCS Superintendent Whitney Oakley said in the release. “The disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic exposed historical systemic gaps in our nation’s education systems and these data make clear that there is an urgent need to accelerate learning.

“We have a stronger foundation to build upon in Guilford County than in many other large districts.”

Earlier this year GCS had been singled out by Education Secretary Miguel Cardona for using American Rescue Plan allocations to develop tutoring and teacher mentoring programs that were designed to help students recover lost learning. It was one of 15 school districts nationally to be held up as an example.

GCS report

Although in many cases GCS in its release touted its superior scores to other peer districts from communities of of 250,000 population or more, Monday’s data reinforced why those efforts are required:

  • The average math score for fourth-graders dropped seven points from 2019 – when the test last was administered – and the average among eighth-graders was down 10 points from 2019.
  • The average fourth-grader’s reading score was down seven points, and for eighth-graders, it was down by six.

“Our students outperformed national large city averages across most demographics and our achievement gaps are lower than many of our peer districts,” said Oakley, who replaced Sharon Contreras as superintendent earlier this year. “But that does not mean our local crisis is any less urgent.

“Student performance is down in our county, and we need to embrace community-wide efforts to accelerate learning.”

Statewide: No surprise

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt (Photo: North Carolina Department of Public Instruction)
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt (Photo: North Carolina Department of Public Instruction)

Scores across the state were down from 2019 as well, but the state in its assessment reinforced where the data were positive, such as the percentage of fourth-graders who scored at least “proficient” in reading was similar to 2019, as was “the performance of groups that include Black, Hispanic, white, economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities and English learners.”

“These findings reflect what our Office of Learning Recovery identified in March of this year regarding the effects of lost instructional time and reaffirms our commitment to working towards recovery and acceleration statewide,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt said in a release.

These findings follow data released in September by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction that showed about half of their schools are performing below a grade C level. The state testing scores for the 2021-22 school year showed that 51% of students statewide graded at proficient when they finished the school year in the spring, which was considerably lower than the 59% that had been reached every year between 2017 and 2019. There was no grading from 2019 until last fall because of the pandemic.

State data

To browse data from the state, you would find that the raw scores for fourth-graders in reading, math, science and writing were almost statistically identical to national scores, and similar scores for eighth-graders were lower but not really different from national levels. To note:

  • Fourth-graders reading at or above proficiency was 32%, which is down from 36% in 2019 but better than in 1998 (27%).
  • Fourth-graders’ math proficiency was 35%, down from 41% in 2019 but up from 25% in 2000.
  • Eighth-graders’ proficiency in math was 25%, down from 37% in 2019 and slightly down from 2000 (27%)
  • Reading proficiency among eighth-graders was 26%, down from 33% in 2019 and slightly less than in 1998 (30%).
  • Students scoring at or above basic rates were all down by about 15% as well.

National perspective

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Reading scores dipped, but math scores plummeted by the largest margins since the test was first given (1969), The Associated Press reported.

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Eighth-graders’ math scores showed “38% earning scores deemed ‘below basic’ — a cutoff that measures, for example, whether students can find the third angle of a triangle if they’re given the other two.” That’s worse than 2019 (31%).

The scores in every region and every state decided “in at least one subject.”

“Let me be very clear: These results are not acceptable,” Cardona said.