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Assessment data shows declining scores, achievement gap for NC students

North Carolina fourth grade average math and reading scores decreased considerably in 2022

The National Assessment for Educational Progress results for 2022 show that the average reading and mathematics scores for fourth- and eighth-grade students in North Carolina have declined since 2019.

According to the Nation’s Report Card, average scores declined for math and reading in both fourth and eighth grade at the national level. Student confidence in their reading and mathematics skills also declined.

“We were not surprised to see these results,” Tammy Howard, senior director of accountability and testing at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, said. 

She said the scores are similar to what the rest of the country saw, and performance compared to the last time the assessment was administered was "absolutely" worse. 

Howard said a great effort is made by the NAEP organization to ensure that the sample size for each state represents the actual number of students. 

In a press conference about the test results, Frank Barnes, the chief accountability officer for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools said NAEP results are often only reported at the national or state levels.

“Not every student at every school or every district or every state takes the NAEP assessments, but a purposeful sample to make sure that you have a good mix of (Exceptional Children) students, English learners, as well as differences from different racial demographics and income backgrounds,” he said. 

Pandemic effects

Howard said the results of the 2022 NAEP assessments were very strongly contextualized by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

She said even when students were attending school face-to-face during the pandemic, they were having to be quarantined and not attend school for some time. Howard cited the example of a student needing to be quarantined at home because a family member was sick with COVID-19. 

“When looking at mathematics, not only did we have the biggest drop, but we had the first ever score drop in mathematics ever since 1973 as a country,” Barnes said. “That’s to put things in a national perspective of the impact that the pandemic has had no matter what your jurisdiction, whether you’ve been a large city or somewhere in another part of a state.”

A teacher in Guilford County, who requested to be anonymous so as to not risk their employment, said they personally don’t think COVID-19 can be used as an excuse for dropping scores. 

They said even though kids had to wear a mask and socially distance once they returned to the classroom, they were getting attention from a qualified teacher as well as receiving any services they needed. 

Children's short attention spans, outside distractions brought into the classroom and bad behaviors take away from instruction, they said. 

“I think our kids today — I feel like I sound like a (grandparent) when I say this — but I really do think social media and technology has a lot of negative influence on our babies,” the teacher said.

They added that they also see a lack of engagement in class and think a lot of the grit and perseverance that kids used to have is missing. 

Achievement gap 

For fourth-grade math scores between 2019 and 2022, white students' average test scores decreased by 6 points, Black students' average scores decreased by 8 points and Hispanic students' scores decreased by 10 points. 

The North Carolina average score decreased by 5 points. 

Fourth-grade reading scores also showed a difference in decline between racial groups. White students' average reading scores decreased by 3 points between 2019 and 2022, while the average scores of Black students and Hispanic students decreased by 10 and 5 points, respectively. The statewide average score decreased by 5 points.

“We had an achievement gap at the beginning of COVID that was already existing,” Howard said. “There has been an impact on the achievement gap during these COVID years when we look at test scores.”

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Barnes said the disparities seen in the test results did not start with the pandemic but were instead exacerbated by the pandemic. 

Does test data represent student success?

The Guilford County teacher said they always tell their students’ parents that test scores, whether they be end-of-grade tests or NAEP tests, are one day out of their child’s year.

“I have a lot of kids who have test anxiety — which I get, because there's a ton of pressure put on teachers by administrators because I'm sure someone above our administrators are putting pressure on them, for these kids to perform a certain way on tests,” they said. “And you know, as good as teachers try to hide it, our kids feel that and can read that emotion and the stress we have on testing.”

The teacher said they wish schools would focus more on monitoring student progress throughout the year, rather than cumulative testing.

Howard said she thinks test data is useful for gaining an understanding on how students are doing and how they are learning.

“Nevertheless, we know that test data is very important, but it is one piece of information and it needs to be viewed in the bigger context because there are other variables,” she said. “There are other factors that are occurring in our schools that can help the educators and policymakers make the appropriate decisions that will provide the best education for our students.”


@DTHCityState | 

Lucy Marques

Lucy Marques is a 2023-24 assistant city & state editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She was previously a city & state senior writer. Lucy is a junior pursuing a double major in political science and Hispanic literatures and cultures.

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