Test scores show continued improvement post-pandemic for NC K-12 students

Students participate in a discussion during class in this undated file photo.

RALEIGH — While academic achievement plummeted for K-12 students in North Carolina and nationwide, test scores released during the September monthly meeting of the N.C. State Board of Education shows continued improvement for the state’s students.  

The gains made by K-12 students show promise but have not yet reached pre-pandemic achievement levels. 

“For the 2022–23 school year, schools continued to deal with student learning loss due to the COVID pandemic,” according to a press release from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI). “Data from the 2022–23 school year should be reviewed in these contexts and comparisons to prior years’ results should be made with caution.” 

“We’re seeing progress back toward our pre-COVID levels,” said Tammy Howard, senior director of NCDPI’s Office of Accountability and Testing. “We may not be 100% back to where we were, but there’s definite progress being seen here.” 

According to NCDPI, “Overall, math scores in elementary and middle school grades were up more significantly than reading scores. The scores on science exams, given at grades 5 and 8, showed gains from 2021-22 in 5th grade but a decline in 8th grade.” 

The composite Grade Level Proficiency (GLP) percentages for the more than 2 million K-12 students in the state showed a proficiency rate of just under 54% for students during the 2022- 23 school year. Conversely, 46% were still not testing at GLP during 2022-23.  

The 2022-23 composite GLP rates show a continued improvement over the prior two school years. In 2021, the GLP dropped 24% from what it was in 2016-17. That percentage improved to 14% in 2022’s data and the gap closed even further in 2023 at 8% when compared with the 2016-17 data. 

The largest GLP increase was seen in Grade 4 Math at 5.3%. Grade 7 Math had the smallest gain with 1.5%. In Reading, Grade 4 was the biggest gainer with 2.9% while Grade 8 had only a 0.3% gain. 

In comparison with the 58.8% 2018-19 school year pass rates, all exam passing rates remain below pre-pandemic levels on every test except High School Math 3. 

As with GLP, the percentage of students considered “Career and College Ready” increased but is still behind pre-pandemic rates.  

Nearly a third (30.9%) of students in grades 3-8 statewide scored at a level 4 or 5 in reading, considered to be Career and College Ready (CCR), compared to 29.3% in 2020-21, while 34.9% of students in grades 3-8 statewide scored at the CCR levels 4 or 5 in math, compared to 32.1% in 2021-22. 

On the ACT, which measures English, math, reading and science, the percentage of 11th graders who had a composite score of at least 19 came in at 41.1%, close to the 41.7% reported in 2021-22. The goal composite score of 17 was changed to 19 to align with UNC System requirements that were updated in March 2020. 

The report to the state board also showed the state’s four-year cohort graduation rate remained unchanged from the previous year at 86.4%. The rate in 2018-19 was 86.5%. 

The A-F school performance grades saw improvement, however, NCDPI says the grades that schools received for 2021-22 and 2022-23 were “affected by the formula used to determine those grades,” which is a combination of student performance on testing and the credit a school earns for student progress year over year.  

The grade designations for schools are set on a 15-point scale: A = 85–100; B = 70–84; C = 55–69; D = 40–54; F = 39 or less. 

Per the report, the percentage of schools with a grade of D or F decreased to 35.4% in 2022-23 from 42.3% in 2021-22. The rate in 2018-19 was 21.8%. 

The number of schools considered low performing under the state accountability system by earning a D or F dropped significantly, from 864 to 804 for 2022-23. That is still nearly 65% more than the 488 that were identified in 2018-19.  

Additionally, the number of low-performing districts decreased to 25 in 2022-23 from the previous school year’s 29. 

About A.P. Dillon 1076 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_