How are students recovering since the pandemic began? Latest statewide test data released
North Carolina students are continuing to make gains in core subjects as they recover from class time they lost due to the pandemic.
State education officials have publicly released the latest data on standardized exams students took this past May. The state board of education reviewed the state-level trends Wednesday.
Statewide, students’ test scores have progressively improved in most subjects over the past two school years, with just a few exceptions. Students saw the greatest strides in math.
“These results are similar to what we've been seeing across other states that have released their test results, in that we're seeing progress back toward our pre-COVID levels,” said Tammy Howard, director of accountability at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
“[We] may not be 100 percent back to where we were, but there's definite progress being seen here,” Howard added.
Detailed data is now publicly available online here. You can check end-of-year testing data for your school or district or dive deeper into statewide data.
What does this data measure?
Ninety-nine percent of North Carolina public school students took end of year exams in May to test what they learned that school year.
Students take “end-of-grade” exams in 3rd through 8th grade and “end-of-course” exams in high school. The exams are designed to test their understanding of state standards in core subjects – reading comprehension, math and science.
Students who score a 3 out of 5 on their end-of-year exam are labeled “grade level proficient” and students who score a 4 or higher are labeled “career and college ready.” This is a label based on a student’s performance on their statewide standardized exam; it is not based on their final grade in the class.
Compared to the prior school year, at the end of the 2022-2023 school year, student test scores increased on nearly all exams, except for 8th Grade Science and for the highest level of achievement in high school English II.
Nearly every bar chart presented to the state board Wednesday follows the same pattern – the percentage of students who are considered “grade level proficient” nosedives when the pandemic begins during the 2020-2021 school year, then gets progressively better over the next two years.
School-level metrics also improved in recent years. Compared to the prior year, the number of schools labeled “low-performing” based on their students' test scores fell from 864 to 804. The number of schools rated as an A, B or C rose, while those ranked as D or F fell. Meanwhile, the high school graduation rate has remained largely stable since 2018.
Howard cautioned against making a one-to-one comparison to years prior to the pandemic.
“We have to always remember very clearly that we are still in a pandemic environment and the impact that it has had on our students, on our teachers, on our schools and our communities at large,” Howard said.
Will North Carolina soon change its exams?
North Carolina’s current school accountability system is based on data from tests students take in a single day or week. They measure a specific snapshot in time – the end of the semester.
Howard said one disadvantage to this testing model is that teachers cannot use the test results to improve their instruction or to target students in need of help.
“It’s been said many times that our end-of-grade assessments or end-of-course assessments are autopsy data,” Howard said. “Once it's been reported out, then the school year is over.”
With support from the U.S. Department of Education and a 2019 state law, North Carolina is in the process of piloting a new testing system known as the North Carolina Personalized Assessment Tool. It would allow students to take more frequent diagnostic exams that teachers can use to inform how they teach.
For the past three years, 189 schools across 27 districts; 14 charter and lab schools; and Cherokee Central Schools have participated in the pilot. State education officials describe it as a multi-stage adaptive assessment that gives students different end-of-year test forms based on their prior performance on diagnostic tests known as “NC Check-Ins” they take throughout the year.
“What we're trying to do is give information throughout the year, so we have a balanced assessment system,” Howard explained. “And at this point in our design, we still have that end of grade assessment, we're just trying to make it more appropriate.”
Howard said that based on the pilot, state education officials will come to the state board of education next month with a proposal to take this model statewide for grades 4-7 in the current 2023-2024 school year.