Students in kindergarten through third grade improved their reading proficiency by 22% from the beginning of the 2023-2024 school year up until present day, compared to a 13% improvement nationally, according to new data released Wednesday by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

The most significant gains came for kindergarteners — only 33% scored at or above the reading benchmark at the beginning of the school year. That contrasts with 55% by mid-year.

Compared to the beginning of the school year, DPI reports over 20,000 fewer students falling below the reading benchmark and more than 34,000 meeting or exceeding it.

Source: NCDPI

DPI credited the gains to the passage of the Excellent Public Schools Act in April 2021. That new law called for all K-5 literacy educators to be trained in the science of reading.

“Elementary educators have been putting the science of reading into practice throughout the past three years, and the results speak for themselves,” said state superintendent of public instruction Catherine Truitt in a statement. “This growth and continued progress is critical to ensuring our youngest learners are in the position to read, lead and succeed throughout their academic journey. Improving reading proficiency for students in North Carolina has been a priority for me since I stepped into office, and I’m so proud of what our students and educators have accomplished.”

While scores have been steadily rising for all subgroups, achievement gaps persist among Black, Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska Native children and their white and Asian peers.

“There is much to celebrate, between students’ continued growth and nearing LETRS’ full implementation,” Amy Rhyne, NCDPI’s director of the Office of Early Learning, said, “but there is still work to be done to support all elementary students in their reading journey.”