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Report: Learning Loss Affected All North Carolina Students

A preliminary report from the state Department of Public Instruction found negative impacts from the pandemic for all students, for all grades, for almost every subject, with in-person lessons yielding better results.

young girl, female student remote learning at desk with laptop
(TNS) — All North Carolina students were negatively impacted by the pandemic and are behind where they should be academically, according to a new state report on learning loss presented Wednesday.

The preliminary report from the state Department of Public Instruction found that all student groups did not do as well as they should have on state exams last school year. State education leaders say the report offers the first comprehensive look at how the COVID-19 pandemic negatively affected the learning of the state's public school students.

"A week ago when we first got a look at this material, I think we both felt like crying," said State Board of Education member Jill Camnitz, who chairs the board's student learning and achievement committee. "It sort of confirms what you knew was coming, but seeing the reality is very painful.

"But we have to just get past that and let it inform the work that we're going to do and be patient but persist with that work as long as it takes to undo as much of this damage as possible."

DPI worked with SAS Institute to predict how students should have done in the 2020-21 school year on state exams compared to their actual performance.

The report was required by state lawmakers to assess the impact of COVID-19 on schools, students and families.


The report used the 2017-18 school year as the baseline to compare how students performed last school year. The 2018-19 data wasn't used due to changes in some tests. The testing program was suspended for the 2019-20 school year because of the pandemic.

But what the 2020-21 data showed was across-the-board negative impacts on student performance. Among the findings:

  • "Negative impact for all students, for all grades, for almost every subject (except English II), and especially for Math (5th-9th); Science (Biology)."

  • "Most students continued to progress during the pandemic but at a slower pace than they would have done otherwise."

  • "Females are further from what we might have expected in the absence of the pandemic."

  • "Students of all races/ethnicities negatively impacted by the pandemic" and "pre-existing disparities have increased."

  • "Gaps widened between economically disadvantaged students and all other students, especially in reading in grades 4, 6, 8; and 5th grade math."

  • "Despite early predictions, AIG students were significantly negatively impacted too, especially for reading in grades 6-8 and math in grade 8."

"The pandemic and the resulting disruption in student learning are the cause of what we see here presented on these charts," said Michael Maher, DPI's executive director of the Office of Learning Recovery.

"This is not on the backs of teachers, principals, superintendents. There is nothing any of them could have done in the height of this pandemic to change these results."

To make the information more understandable, DPI plans to translate the data into an equivalent of how many months of learning students have lost academically.


Schools across the state and nation have been grappling with how to help students get caught up after seeing learning being disrupted over the past two years.

Students have dealt with issues such as limited amounts of in-person instruction, mask requirements, extended absences due to quarantine rules and the deaths of caregivers and other relatives.

Some districts waited longer than others last school year to return to in-person instruction on a daily or limited basis.

The report said students who returned for face-to-face learning and where specific and targeted resources and supports were immediately put in place "did better than the students whose instruction was purely remote and who were physically disengaged from their school community."

"The majority of students need regular interaction and direct personal engagement with their principals, their teachers, and their peers," said Jeni Corn, director of research and evaluation in DPI's Office of Learning Recovery.

Results released in September showed only 45.4 percent of K-12 students passed state exams last school year compared to 58.8 percent before the pandemic. At the time, state officials promised a more detailed analysis about learning loss would be released.

DPI says people should look both at the information released in September and what's being released now.

"Using both pieces of information provides local educators a more complete picture of the impact of the pandemic on student performance and how to move forward," according to an FAQ from DPI.


DPI says the report's preliminary's findings will be used to create a baseline to monitor progress over time.

The data, down to the student level, will also be provided to schools and districts to help them assess where students may need additional help. The report say resources and targeted interventions should be focused on students who have been most negatively impacted by disrupted learning caused by the pandemic.

Another finding in the report is that students need access to reliable broadband Internet at home. The report encourages partnerships focused on solving the rural and economic broadband divide.

"Recovery will not be over in May," Maher said. "It likely will not be over next May. We'll have a plan going forward."

School districts were already required by the General Assembly to create summer learning programs last year to provide up to 150 hours of learning for at-risk students. According to another state report, 247,912 students attended last summer.

In addition, state lawmakers are requiring all of the state's elementary school teachers to receive training on the "science of reading," a method of literacy instruction that stresses phonics. A report presented Wednesday shows that 25,770 teachers have been trained so far on the LETRS program with more coming.

The LETRS training has produced complaints though that the time commitment is a burden on teachers, forcing some to do it on weekends. But State Superintendent Catherine Truitt said Wednesday that they can't afford to delay the training because the way they've been teaching reading before "is education malpractice."

"We have the opportunity and the funding to correct this problem," Truitt told the state board. "We're just going to have to make the best of this situation. It's not ideal."

©2022 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.