RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Newly released student performance data from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) shows the gap between proficiency levels for White and Black students is increasing.
"We were going through a global pandemic and communities of color were hit hard, because of COVID. So many of the academic things that we see though, we should remind ourselves that many of the gaps we see actually occurred pre-pandemic and the COVID exacerbated those gaps," explained North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) president Tamika Walker Kelly.
A year into the pandemic, 14% fewer North Carolina students were proficient at their grade level. That decrease was greater for Black, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students who reported a 15-16% drop.
James E. Ford, a State Board of Education member and the Executive Director of the Center for Racial Equity in Education (CREED) called the findings heartbreaking.
"Are they demoralizing? Yeah. Are they heartbreaking? Is it criminal? Yes, but they were criminal before the pandemic. This has merely made it worse and illuminated that force, and deepened the chasm," Ford said.
He said the latest data gives a sense of urgency to the disparities and inequities that have existed in the state for decades.
The latest data shows all students are improving, but Hispanic students and economically disadvantaged students are still reporting some of the biggest gaps in overall grade level proficiency.
Before the pandemic, 30% more White students were considered 'grade level proficient' than their Black peers, but now that gap is around 32%.
"What we have seen though, is that our students of color and some of our highest needs students, including students who live in poverty, or students who have disabilities, need those additional supports in order to continue to make their academic gains as well," Walker Kelly said.
Proficiency levels for reading for third through eighth graders were consistent across student groups with around 9% fewer students considered proficient in 2022 than in 2019. Still, around double, the percentage of White students are at proficient reading levels than economically disadvantaged and Black students in 2022.
There was more variability in math scores for grades 3-8. White students' math scores dropped by five fewer points than Hispanic students who saw a 22% drop in proficiency. This past year, all students improved their math proficiency at equal rates.
A look at local districts
These trends are playing out at the local level as well.
Average performance is lower for all Wake County students in 2022 compared with 2019. However, Black and Hispanic students scored 9% lower on the annual school performance assessment last year whereas White students scored just 1% lower.
Data showed economically disadvantaged students in Wake County were hit particularly hard and are having a slower time bouncing back. Seven percent fewer economically disadvantaged students are considered grade-level proficient than before the pandemic.
Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students in Durham County Schools still reported the biggest gaps in proficiency since before the pandemic. Two percent fewer White students are considered grade-level proficient compared to 8% of Hispanic students.
Meanwhile, all students in Cumberland County are reporting similar gaps between 2019 proficiency levels with 6-8% fewer students at grade-level proficiency.
In all three districts and across the state, the gap between the efficiency of White and Black students is growing.
To continue to combat learning loss for all students, Kelly Walker said school districts need to continue to provide additional support and resources, and that starts with money. Beyond just utilizing pandemic relief money, she is urging North Carolina leaders to increase funding to offer these resources more consistently.
"The same remedies that we need to address the learning needs during COVID are the same ones that we need all the time. And those are resources that can be provided through policy and funding to the North Carolina General Assembly. So, it is up to our school districts, but also our parents, our community members, educators and all allies to petition our general assembly to invest more in public education as a whole," Kelly Walker said.
Ford agreed and said investment in systemic and societal issues in lower-income communities like access to broadband is going to be needed to permanently reduce some of these problems.
"There has to be a higher dosage of tutoring outside of school time, activities that help to enrich students' understanding and help catch them up. I think one thing to be encouraged by is that the data shows that in a lot of ways, all groups took a hit, certainly in historically marginalized groups, but there is some recovery already taken place," Ford said.
Kelly Walker said while the recent data is a testament to the hard work of educators, people should keep in mind comparisons between 2019 and 2022 are like apples and oranges and other metrics to measure students' learning and growth more accurately are out there.
"It is really important to realize that the data is a snapshot in time and that it should be placed in context with all the other work that students do throughout the year. One of the many measures that teachers look at is a standardized test score, but they also look at students' actual work product," she said.
Ford said he hopes the latest data spurs some change.
"Hopefully this prompts people to action and not just talking about what's wrong with it," he said.