The 2022 National Assessment for Educational Progress results show that the average reading and math scores of fourth- and eighth-graders in North Carolina have declined since 2019.
According to the Nation’s Report Card, average math and reading scores fell nationally in both fourth and eighth grades. Students’ confidence in their reading and math skills also decreased.
“We weren’t surprised to see these results,” said Tammy Howard, senior director of accountability and testing at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
She said the results were similar to the rest of the country and that performance was “absolutely” worse compared to the last time the assessment was conducted.
Howard said the NAEP organization goes to great lengths to ensure that the sample size for each state reflects the actual number of students.
In a news conference on the test results, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools chief accountability officer Frank Barnes said NAEP results are often only reported at the national or state level.
“Not every student in every school or every county or state takes part in the NAEP assessments, but rather a targeted sample to ensure you have a good mix of (exceptional children) students, English learners, as well as differences from different ethnic demographics and income backgrounds,” he said.
Howard said the results of the 2022 NAEP assessments were very heavily contextualized by the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said even when students attended school face-to-face during the pandemic, they had to be quarantined and absent from school for some time. Howard gave the example of a student who had to quarantine at home because a family member had contracted COVID-19.
“If we look at math, not only did we have the biggest drop, but we had the first drop in math score as a country since 1973,” Barnes said. “That’s to look at the impact of the pandemic from a national perspective, regardless of your jurisdiction, whether you were a major city or somewhere in another part of a state.”
A Guilford County teacher, who requested anonymity to avoid risking his tenure, said he personally doesn’t think COVID-19 can be used as an excuse for dropping grades.
They said although children were required to wear a mask and social distance upon returning to the classroom, they received the attention of a qualified teacher and received all the services they needed.
Children’s short attention spans, outside distractions in the classroom, and bad behavior hamper lessons, they said.
“I think our kids today — I feel like I sound like a (grandparent) when I say that — but I really think social media and technology are having a huge negative impact on our babies,” the teacher said.
They added that they also see a lack of engagement in the classroom and think much of the determination and perseverance the children used to have is missing.
In fourth-grade math scores between 2019 and 2022, mean white student test scores dropped 6 points, mean black student scores dropped 8 points, and Hispanic student scores dropped 10 points.
North Carolina’s average score dropped 5 points.
Fourth grade reading results also showed a difference in decline between racial groups. Average reading scores for white students declined 3 points between 2019 and 2022, while average scores for black students and Hispanic students declined 10 and 5 points, respectively. The national average fell by 5 points.
“We had a performance gap early in COVID that was already there,” Howard said. “It’s impacted the performance gap in these COVID years when we look at the test results.”
Barnes said the differences found in the test results did not start with the pandemic, but were instead exacerbated by the pandemic.
Do test data represent student success?
The Guilford County teacher said they always tell their students’ parents that the test scores, whether they’re end-of-grade tests or NAEP tests, are one day in their child’s year.
“I have a lot of kids who are test scared – which I get because there is a ton of pressure on the teachers from the administrators because I’m sure someone through our administrators is putting pressure on them to make those kids perform a certain way on tests “, they said. “And you know, as much as the teachers try to hide it, our kids feel that and can read those emotions and the stress that we have testing.”
The teacher said they wish schools would focus more on monitoring student progress throughout the year than on cumulative testing.
Howard said she thinks test data is useful for understanding how students are performing and how they are learning.
“Nevertheless, we know that test data is very important, but it’s information that needs to be viewed in the larger context because there are other variables,” she said. “There are other factors emerging in our schools that can help educators and policymakers make the right decisions that will provide the best education for our students.”
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