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3 years after height of pandemic, Cumberland schools on road to recovery

Proficiency increases in ‘Year 2 ’ after COVID-19 learning loss


The latest test results released by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction show an increase in academic achievement for students in Cumberland County Schools, but officials are still working to get performance back to pre-pandemic levels. 

Overall district learning proficiency measures increased from 47.3% in 2021-22 to 49.3% in the 2022-23 results that were released Wednesday. That is below the pre-pandemic rate of 54.7% but well above the 36.8% proficiency score recorded in 2020-21. 

The proficiency score measures how many Cumberland County students are meeting academic expectations for their grade level. 

This year's scores also showed major improvements in graduation rates in Cumberland County — now at 86.6%, the highest rate since 2006, when the state began publishing that data. 

“These accomplishments are a testament to the hard work of our successful students and our dedicated educators and staff,” said Deanna Jones, chairwoman of the Cumberland County Board of Education. 

Jones and other Cumberland County Schools officials say the system is officially in Year 3 of learning recovery for the just-begun 2023-24 school year. Nationwide, test scores and academic proficiency had a marked drop during the 2020-21 school year in the wake of remote learning forced by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Despite the positives from this week’s numbers, scores suggest there’s more work to be done to gain back what was lost because of the pandemic. One example: 84.2% of schools in the district met or exceeded academic growth last school year, compared to 89% for the 2021-22 school year, according to state data. There was also an increase in the number of low-performing Cumberland schools: 27, versus 16 a year ago.

CCS uses a multitiered system — called PASE, which stands for Performance, Accountability, Support, and Empowerment — to aid low-performing schools, categorized as Tier 1. These schools get additional support in the form of frequent visits from student support staff, better staff recruitment efforts, middle school instructional coaches and support for school improvement plans. 

“(Superintendent Marvin Connelly Jr.) and his team are focused on providing an additional layer of support to the schools that need it most, including additional support from the district departments,” Jones told CityView.

Beyond this, the district has dedicated support teams for each school that assist with human resources, finances and community support. 

“We will continue our strategic and intensive efforts to further boost achievement, especially in schools that have not seen the same consistent level of growth,” Chief Academic Officer Mellotta Hill said. “We will never be satisfied until we have zero low-performing schools.”

For the 2023-24 school year, Cumberland County officials plan to make use of the state data to drive learning recovery efforts, according to Hill.

“While state data and accountability results show the tremendous progress made across the school system, we as a district recognize continuous improvement efforts remain,” she said. 

Contact Char Morrison at cmorrison@cityviewnc.com.

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cumberland county, cumberland county schools, test scores, pandemic