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Some NC students lost more than a year's math progress during the pandemic, study says

 Second-graders at Oakdale Elementary School in Charlotte do a phonics lesson.
Ann Doss Helms
Second-graders at Oakdale Elementary School in Charlotte do a phonics lesson.

A new analysis of North Carolina test scores shows middle school students lost more than a year’s worth of ground in math during the pandemic.

The report posted Tuesday morning elaborates on a March analysis of learning loss. By translating numbers that mean nothing to a layperson into months of class time, it attempts to help the public understand how much work lies ahead to recover from the disruption brought by COVID-19.

The state’s Office of Learning Recovery and Acceleration compares projections for how students should have scored last year, based on 2018 results, to how they actually fared after a year disrupted by remote and hybrid classes.

In English Language Arts, or ELA, losses ranged from a little over two months in third grade to almost eight months in seventh grade. In math the setbacks ranged from seven months in fifth grade to 15 months in eighth-grade math and Math 1, a high school course that many students take in middle school.

“On average students may need interventions that are equivalent to twice as much additional time in math than (in) ELA,” research analyst Calen Clifton said.

NC Office of Learning Recovery and Acceleration

Those findings are consistent with similar studies across the country. The research team says it was difficult to teach math through online classes, especially in upper grades.

The “months of learning” calculations do not mean students will automatically be caught up after that amount of time this year, although research director Jeni Corn did note that “all of us are expecting a bit of a rebound after students had an opportunity to be back at school this year.”

Instead, researchers say, it means they’ll need the equivalent of that much time on top of their regular classes. The state is spending $40 million on summer programs this year and $36 million on a new math enrichment program that will be offered before and after school next year for grades 4-8.

Michael Maher, director of the Office of Learning Recovery, says school districts and charter schools will add their own efforts to help students recover lost ground.

“The idea is that you wrap a number of these interventions around students,” he said in a briefing before the latest report was posted. “So they have summer learning. During the course of the academic year perhaps they’re in the math intervention. Perhaps they’re also in a high-dosage tutoring situation.”

The latest analysis will not be broken down by districts, schools or subgroups of students, such by race or family income. But Corn said school officials have detailed breakdowns of who lost how much ground: “The districts for the first time are able to look at this data down to the student, classroom and school level.”

The Office of Learning Recovery plans to keep posting new analyses of the 2021 data and will track 2022 results when they’re available to identify what’s working best.

Copyright 2022 WFAE. To see more, visit WFAE.

Ann Doss Helms covers education for WFAE. She was a reporter for The Charlotte Observer for 32 years, including 16 years on the education beat. She has repeatedly won first place in education reporting from the North Carolina Press Association and won the 2015 Associated Press Senator Sam Open Government Award for reporting on charter school salaries.
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