Cooper's veto of school reopening bill stands as new statewide test results reveal grim reality of pandemic learning

Joel Brown Image
Tuesday, March 2, 2021
Statewide test results reveal grim reality of pandemic learning
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Beyond the political maneuvering of a failed veto override of the school reopening bill, alarming student test performances renew concerns about the long-term effects of virtual learning

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Republicans needed 30 votes Monday night to override Gov. Roy Cooper's veto of the school reopening bill. They fell one vote short. The veto stands.

But separate and apart from the politics at play on Jones Street, there are huge concerns about the long-term effect the pandemic is having on education.

In Monday evening's session in the Senate, the Republican-backed bill that required schools to reopen to in-person learning was dealt a death blow. Senate Bill 37, which last month won over three Democratic senators, only garnered one Democratic vote for the veto override.

It was a win for Cooper, who insisted he would only sign the bill if it required middle schools and high schools to comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services guidelines and allowed leeway for another shutdown if COVID-19 metrics go backward.

Republicans argued that the negative effects of students staying home were too great.

"Actually, I don't think the governor and the General Assembly are that far apart," said Keith Poston, president of WakeED, the nonprofit business-backed group supporting public schools.

He said he is encouraged that most local districts are finding ways to safely return to the classroom, but he has real concerns about the learning loss from nearly a year of pandemic learning.

The first round of statewide school test results from this year is in. The numbers show a majority of North Carolina high school students did not pass end-of-course exams last fall:

  • In Math 1, 66.4% of high school students were not proficient. It was 48.2% during the same semester last school year.
  • In Math 3, 54.9% were not proficient. The prior fall semester it was 44.5%.
  • In biology, 54.5% of students were not proficient. A year before, it was 42.1%


"Of course it is worrisome," Poston said. "This is the workforce of the future. Our students are not going to be prepared for career and college if we allow this hopefully once-in-a-lifetime pandemic to set them back for the long term."

Third-grade reading scores are also a cause for concern -- 58.2% of third-graders scored at Level 1, the exam's lowest rating. Last school year it was 49.8%.

"We knew in the abstract that these test results would be disturbing, but it is even more difficult to see them on paper," State Superintendent Catherine Truitt told ABC11 in a statement. "The math and literacy results speak to a problem that pre-dates COVID, and the pandemic has unfortunately exacerbated this problem. However, these results sharpen the Department's resolve and underscore why literacy will continue to be a statewide priority for us moving forward. We will not allow for this pandemic to be a generational hurdle that impacts students long term."

The grim test scores are coming to light one week after the state House passed a bill to require school districts to create special summer schools to help students who have fallen behind through the pandemic.

"I think we're going to need summer school and then some," Poston said. "I'd like to make sure it's actually funded. Our schools need to know there's actually money attached to it."

The statewide test results will be shared at Wednesday's meeting at the State Board of Education.