A year-over-year analysis report from state government shows that students are showing signs of learning recovery in nearly every subject area, with the strongest gains coming for third graders for reading. There were also notable gains in reading and math for grades three, four, and five, plus in science for fifth grade.

The report, conducted by the NC Department of Public Instruction’s Office of Learning Recovery and Acceleration, in cooperation with SAS Institute, was released Jan. 3 during an NC State Board of Education meeting. The document tracks learning outcomes from years spanning 2013 to 2023, giving a snapshot of pre-pandemic learning trajectories compared to post-pandemic.

The report demonstrated where learning outcomes would have ended up had the pandemic not occurred, then contrasted those with actual end-of-grade test performance.

Prior to the pandemic, learning outcome variations between schools were small, but post-pandemic, the gaps have grown, DPI noted.

“Our continued improvement as identified in this report is a testament to the commitment and diligence of educators across North Carolina and a result of what can be done when there is intentionality in strategically implementing programming to support students who were most affected by the pandemic,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt in a statement.

“This report provides the information we need to continue designing academic programming in subjects where students need additional support while allowing us to better target resources to specific grades and content areas,” Truitt added.

The report includes several suggested benchmarks for recovery. One noted by Dr. Jeni Corn, director of research and analysis at DPI, focused on the need for “targeted and evidence-based” interventions for reading and math in middle grades.

“This has been an issue in this state for many, many years. The pandemic put a spotlight on that. As a state, we need to recommit ourselves to what’s going on in our middle schools,” Corn said.

Another recommendation is to explore more STEM initiatives tied to workforce priorities. The goal is to help students who just finished eighth grade to connect high-school content and courses to opportunities in the labor market, Corn said.

Other recent reports from DPI have demonstrated progress in learning-loss recovery,  including one from April.