Results from state testing for the 2020-21 school year released today are an indicator of the formidable challenges that students and educators across North Carolina faced during one of the most severe disruptions to public education the state and nation have ever confronted.
Tests designed to be administered at the same time and based on typical face-to-face classroom instruction were taken under widely varying conditions, often after an entire year of atypical, remote instruction.
Consequently, even while the outcomes are predictably lower that past years, the results also are not objectively comparable to previous years, given the many factors that disrupted instruction as well as the administration of the assessments themselves.
Anticipating the significant challenges to teaching and learning that began in March 2020, Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt and the State Board of Education launched the Office of Learning Recovery and Acceleration early this year to support public schools statewide now focusing on accelerating the pace of learning for all students.
In addition, the U.S. Department of Education has waived accountability requirements to North Carolina and other states in consideration of the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the N.C. General Assembly and the governor have now waived state accountability rules, including the calculation and reporting of A-F school performance grades and growth analyses.
Truitt said the 2020-21 assessment data are meant to provide information to parents, educators and the public about student performance and to help design and deploy resources and supports.
“We know the 2020-21 school year was incredibly challenging for students, families and educators,” Truitt said. “We need to remember these results are only a snapshot of a year marked by extreme anomalies and extenuating circumstances. To treat these scores as though they are valid indicators of future success or performance would not only be an improper use of these data, but also would be a disservice to our students, teachers, and administrators.
“As advised by the U.S. Department of Education, these data are not valid for making accountability determinations but should instead be used to make student-centered decisions around planning for resources and establishing next steps. Our Office of Learning Recovery and Acceleration will be working in partnership with critical education stakeholders to identify the best practices to determine how we can better target resources to students. Our goal is to help districts allow for learning recovery and acceleration to occur simultaneously.”
The student achievement data for the 2020-21 school year is based on analysis of all end-of- grade (EOG) and end-of-course (EOC) tests, which are aligned to the North Carolina Standard Course of Study in English Language Arts (Reading) and Mathematics and the Essential Standards in Science for all public schools in North Carolina. The data provide the percentage of students who scored at Level 3 and above (grade level proficiency), at Level 4 and above (college and career readiness) and at each academic achievement level.
Under the federal waiver, schools and the state were not held to the requirement that at least 95 percent of students participate in the assessments, but as a condition of the waiver, North Carolina and other states must report participation disaggregated by student subgroups. The disaggregated participation data are reported for eligible students who took the tests as well as those eligible students who did not take the tests.
Eric Davis, chairman of the State Board of Education, said the board and the department are using the results to help support schools and educators going forward in the 2021-22 year.
“The scores will allow the board, department, districts and schools to determine learning in the prior year to plan appropriately for student learning this school year,” Davis said.
“These results show the resilience of our students and dedication of our teachers and others to persevere despite many disruptions to learning,” he said. “The scores should not be interpreted to indicate deficiencies in student learning or our teachers’ abilities to teach. These scores are one of many tools we will use to continue to develop instructional plans to meet the academic needs of each and every student.”
Tammy Howard, accountability director for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction cautioned also that the test data be considered within the context of last year’s disruptions, and though previous year's data is provided in the report released today, it is not intended to be used as a comparison for the purpose of evaluating effort or drawing conclusions.
Howard said that differences in test administrations included longer testing “windows” of time when schools could administer the tests, varying amounts of time between instruction and test administration and varying schedules and modes (remote, hybrid, in-person) that schools followed and that changed throughout the school year. And while the participation rate was above 90 percent for all grades and tests, participation fell shy of the 95 percent minimum requirement for several of them.
“The data is provided to support public school units’ discussions of students’ instructional needs as the 2021-22 school year begins,” Howard said.
In terms of performance, the percentages of students meeting Level 3 and above (grade level performance or GLP) or Level 4 and above (college and career ready or CCR) in 2020–21 were lower in all content areas and grades/courses than in the 2018–19 school year, the last year when students were tested.
Comparing 2020-21 to 2018-19 results show these differences:
- EOG mathematic tests ranged from a percentage point difference of 16.0 (Grade 5 CCR) to 19.9 (Grade 8 GLP).
- EOG Reading tests ranged from a percentage point difference of 7.4 (Grade 8 GLP) to 25.5 (Grade 6 CCR).
- EOG Science tests ranged from a percentage point difference of 8.3 (Grade 8 GLP) to 19.8 (Grade 5 CCR)
- EOC tests ranged from a percentage point difference of 1.1 (NC Math 3 CCR) to 27.1 (Grade 8 NC Math 1 CCR).
Disaggregated results also showed declines when compared with 2018-19:
- For all EOG and EOC assessments, all subgroups had a decrease in the percentage meeting GLP and CCR except for the Asian subgroup for tests in Grade 8 reading (GLP), NC Math 3 (CCR) and English II (GLP).
- For all EOGs and EOCs, the range of the percentage point differences for the two reference years was 30.4 to 0.4 (GLP and CCR).
- The subgroup differences were smallest for NC Math 3, ranging from GLP (0.4 to 5.6) than CCR (0.7 to 3.9)
- English II subgroup differences were smaller for GLP (0.6 to 5.3) than CCR (8.3 to 20.4)
Also released in today’s data report are performance outcomes on the ACT college readiness exam administered to all 11th graders and the 4- and 5-year cohort graduation rate for the class of 2021.
On the ACT, for which the University of North Carolina system sets a composite score of 17 as its minimum admission requirement, the state saw a slight decline in the percentage of students achieving the composite, from 55.8 percent in 2018-19 to 55.2 percent in 2020-21. Howard noted that the less pronounced difference, compared with EOG and EOC results, can probably be attributed to the more cumulative nature of the exam, which is also less course specific.
The state’s 4-year cohort graduation rate for the class of 2021 also declined slightly, to 86.9 percent from 87.6 percent for the class of 2020. Compared to the class of 2019, the 4-year cohort graduation rate for the class of 2021 represented an increase from 86.5 percent.
*** Go here for complete 2020-21 results for the state, districts and schools, under the 2020-21 Reports heading.