More Than Half of North Carolina’s Students Rated Proficient on State Exams

And the state’s four-year cohort graduation rate held steady at 86.4%.

a photo of teacher high-fiving students

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A little more than half of North Carolina’s K-12 student test takers were proficient on the recent round of state exams, according to school accountability data shared by the NC Department of Public Instruction.

The 53.6% proficiency rate for the 2021-22 school year is a slight improvement over the 51.2% recorded the previous year.

However, testing data show that the state’s stubborn achievement gap persists. White students continue to outperform children of color and poor children by large margins.

Nearly 67% of white students passed state exams, meaning they scored at level three or better. Meanwhile, only 36.1% of Black students and 42.3% of Latinx students were proficient on state exams. Black and Latinx students make up more than 50% of the state’s 1.5 million K-12 students.

While students showed overall improvement from the COVID-related decline, they did not surpass pre-pandemic scores, NCDPI officials said.

“We have to always remember very clearly that we are still in a pandemic environment and the impact that it has had on our students, our teachers, on our schools and our communities at large,” Tammy Howard, senior director of NCDPI’s Office of Accountability and Testing.

In a statement, State Superintendent Catherine Truitt said the impact the pandemic had on student achievement is hard to overstate.

“We’ve now seen two consecutive years of gains that were greater than any of the several years preceding the pandemic losses, when year-to-year changes in average scores were generally flat, or in some cases, declining,” Truitt said. “Students and schools still have a way to go to catch up, but we have good reason to think that progress will continue.”

Truitt said that as more teachers in early grades adopt literacy instruction grounded in the science of reading, more students will become stronger readers.

“We’re going to see continued improvement in those test scores and others,” Truitt said.

The state’s four-year cohort graduation rate held steady at 86.4%. It was unchanged from the previous year and from the 2018-19 school year.

Howard noted these key takeaways from the accountability data:

  • State level participation on state exams is greater than 95%.
  • Scores on all end-of-grade tests and end-of-course exams increased, with the exception of Grade 8 Science and English II. Math has larger increases than reading.
  • Schools continue to meet and exceed growth.
  • Compared to 2021–22, the number of schools rated A, B, and C increased, and those rated D and F decreased.

School performance grade data show 35.4% of schools receiving letter grades of D or F. That’s a decrease over the 42.3% that received them the previous year.

The letter grades have been heavily scrutinized because much of the grade is based on student performance on state exams. The exams account for 80% of the school’s letter grade while growth accounts for the remaining 20%.

Truitt has led efforts to retool the grading system so that state exams would carry less weight. She noted that because other states use different models, many are to home to fewer “failing” schools than North Carolina.

“I would really encourage us to think about proficiency rates as we are continuing to work through how to rewrite our school accountability model so that it does a better job of reflecting the work that goes into educating our students,” Truitt said.

Howard said North Carolina’s testing results are similar to those of other states that are “seeing progress back toward pre-COVID levels.”

“It may not be 100% back to where we were but there is definite progress being seen here.”

Eric Davis, chairman of the State Board of Education, said the 2022-23 accountability results reflect the hard work and dedication of many educators and students to address the pandemic’s persistent effects on student learning.

“We should recognize those efforts and support those efforts with the resources our students need to succeed,” Davis said.

Earlier Wednesday, Davis acknowledged the work teachers and school leaders have done to prepare for the new school year without a state budget in place.

“I’d like to thank every district and school leader who, despite not having a budget and receiving some additional administrative responsibilities at the last minute, rose to the occasion and created in nearly every school and effective climate of respect and trust.”

NC Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. NC Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Rob Schofield for questions: info@ncnewsline.com. Follow NC Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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