Study estimates how far behind NC elementary, middle school students fell during pandemic year

North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — North Carolina students in grades 1-4 fell further behind pre-pandemic expectations in reading than children did in other states, according to a study by an education technology company.

With the traditional academic calendar starting Monday in Wake County, Renaissance, an educational tech company that makes tests and studies the results, analyzed the progress of more than 3 million students in grades 1-8 across the country. These students took the company’s assessment tests during the 2019-20 school year — before most schools shifted to remote instruction — and in 2020-21.

The company compared those results to those from pre-pandemic years to estimate how students might have been expected to perform had the pandemic not disrupted the last academic year.

(Source: Renaissance.)
(Source: Renaissance.)

“The requirement here was that they had taken the test before the pandemic so that we could use our decades of research and say, ‘Here’s how students typically make progress here,’” said Dr. Katie McClarty, vice president of research and design at Renaissance.

“So their scores would typically grow in a normal year, and then compare that to what we actually saw during the pandemic,” she said.

(Source: Renaissance.)

The numbers showed first graders in North Carolina fell 10 percentile rank points behind where they would have been in reading, compared to a drop of seven percentile rank points nationally.

For second-graders, the drop was eight percentile rank points in our state compared to five across the country.

In math, the gaps between the current results and expectations from before the pandemic in our state were also wide, but so were those observed nationally: Fourth-graders in North Carolina were 14 percentile rank spots below those expectations — the same as those across the country.

(Source: Renaissance.)

“The high-level story is, modest impacts to reading, significantly more impacts to mathematics,” said Dr. Gene Kerns, vice president and chief academic officer at Renaissance.

The study also estimates how many weeks of instruction it would take for those students to catch up to those expectations. Younger children tend to pick things up quicker than older ones, and the report points out that making up a gap of four percentage rank points might take a first-grader three weeks but an eighth-grader 14 weeks.

“The reality of how those gaps are closed plays out wildly differently,” said Kerns said. “First-graders grow and grow — I mean, you get the right thing to them, they can flourish and cover a lot of growing really, really, really quickly. Seventh- and eighth-graders, it’s just a totally different construct or dynamic around growth for them.”

Kerns says other groups studying different methods, populations of students and tools came to similar conclusions.

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