Test results show huge learning loss

RALEIGH — In 2019, 28% of eighth graders in North Carolina lacked even basic reading skills and 29% lacked basic math skills. Only about a third mastered these basic subjects.

Regardless of region, sector, party or ideology, no one was satisfied with the 2019 results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the benchmark for independent assessment of student learning. We all knew that without higher levels of reading and math proficiency, North Carolina’s economy would be smaller, our families poorer, and our communities weaker. We knew that while schools in many other states were worse, those in North Carolina could still be better.

Now that the 2022 NAEP scores are in, we know something else: our task has become much more difficult.

According to the latest estimates, the share of eighth graders in North Carolina who lack basic skills has risen to 34% in reading and 39% in math. Proficiency rates fell in the mid-1920s. When we discuss test score trends, we often focus on learning gaps based on race, ethnicity, and family income, but there It is important to recognize that the cuts are not limited to disadvantaged children or those who are already struggling. In 2019, 11% of our eighth graders demonstrated advanced math skills. In 2022, this rate has fallen to 6%.

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Unsurprisingly, Republicans and conservatives who have blamed Gov. Roy Cooper and other policymakers for keeping public schools closed too long during the COVID-19 pandemic have seized on NAEP scores as supporting evidence. . Also unsurprisingly, the Biden administration and other Democrats immediately framed the results differently, pointing out (correctly) that many places where schools reopened quickly also saw a sharp drop in test scores.

Critics of long-term school closures have the best argument, however. According to separate analyzes of the data by Brown University professor Emily Oster, Thomas Willburn of online media outlet Chalkbeat, and Harvard professor Martin West (who also sits on the NAEP board), the extent to which states provided face-to-face rather than online instruction was, indeed, linked to the extent of the drop in their test scores – although the correlations were in some cases rather modest.

North Carolina and many other states have kept their public schools closed far longer than an unbiased risk assessment (both medical and educational) warranted. That being said, even if they had been reopened more quickly, the initial closures and continued disruption to economic and family life from the pandemic would have adversely affected the performance of our students anyway.

In other words, Cooper and like-minded officials in other states definitely made the wrong decision. But running the problem again will not solve the current problem. North Carolina’s NAEP scores are in most cases lower than they were at the start of the 21st century.

Keep in mind that we don’t have NAEP scores for 2020 or 2021. It’s likely that learning loss was gigantic in those years, and may have bounced back a bit in 2022. is the pattern we can see in the annual state testing schedule: 51% of our students achieved “proficiency level” on state exams in 2022, up from a disastrous 45% in 2021, but still well 59% below 2017, 2018 and 2019 levels. North Carolina also sets the bar higher, labeled as “college and career ready,” for which the latest averages are even more sobering: 34 % in 2022, compared to 30% in 2021 and 45% in 2019.

And now? In North Carolina, the political battle lines formed years ago. Democrats believe the best way to improve education is to spend far more taxpayer dollars on public schools, including across-the-board pay raises for teachers and employing more teaching and non-teaching staff . Republicans believe the best approach is to give parents more choice, foster greater competition among schools to make them more profitable, and reform the way we train, hire, evaluate, and compensate to attract and retain more effective teachers.

You’ll be hearing a lot about these ideas over the next few months. The stakes are high, as our abysmal NAEP results laid bare.

John Hood

John Hood is a board member of the John Locke Foundation. His latest books, “Mountain Folk” and “Forest Folk,” blend epic fantasy with ancient American history (FolkloreCycle.com).

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