By on 3.26.21 in Education

It has been a little over a year since the pandemic shut down workplaces and schools across North Carolina. In this post, we detail what Carolina Demography has learned about the pandemic’s effect on the educational system in NC.

First, let’s start with a short timeline:

On March 15, 2020, NC Governor Roy Cooper signed an executive order to close all K-12 public schools for a minimum of two weeks. During the next three weeks, over 1,400 colleges and universities across the United States closed their doors and transitioned to online instruction. Over half of these colleges and universities (57%) closed during their spring break periods.

In July 2020, the Governor announced that every district could select Plan A, B, or C, as part of a toolkit put together by StrongSchoolsNC, a collaboration among NC’s Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Public Instruction, and the State Board of Education.

  • Plan A involves minimal social distancing
  • Plan B involves at least six feet, and finally
  • Plan C involves full remote learning.

Almost one year after K-12 schools were closed, on March 10th 2021, the legislature and the Governor passed a bill requiring that all elementary school students operate under plan A, and middle and high schools would still have the option to operate under Plan A or Plan B.

Meanwhile, starting last summer and fall, universities across the state made plans and roadmaps to decide how to educate students in the spring semester; plans differed depending on schools and universities, the populations they served, and the resources available.

Carolina Demography’s work on COVID-19’s impact on education

Throughout this time, Carolina Demography has been tracking the impact of COVID-19 on critical transition points along the education continuum, from Pre-K to career. We also developed data tools with partners at myFutureNC and education leaders across the state to track data points annually. The questions we’ve addressed include:

How has COVID-19 affected school enrollment?

In a blog post, we documented the decline in Average Daily Membership (ADM), or K-12 school attendance, from 2019-20 Month 2 ADM to 2020-21 Month 2 ADM. (In other words, we compared how many kids were in school this October to the previous October.) Statewide, ADM is down 63,000 students or -4.4%. This decline in ADM this past fall was five times larger than the largest decline previously observed.

How has FAFSA Application completion changed since the start of the pandemic?

Applications for FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, are down across the state. Specifically, FAFSA completion is down 8.7%, according to the National College Attainment Network. For Title I and high-minority schools, the rate is down by 12%. Carolina Demography, in collaboration with myFutureNC, has developed a FAFSA tracker so that researchers, policy experts, and other key stakeholder groups can monitor FAFSA completion weekly.

How does COVID-19 affect test scores and enrollment and other data points?

In partnership with myFutureNC, we have been tracking annual progress towards the 2030 statewide attainment goal and associated metrics that show how NC students are performing along the entire education continuum, from NC Pre-K through college and career.

We expect that many of these indicators – from postsecondary attendance to high school completion — will be affected by the K-12 and postsecondary closures that took place across the state. Looking at how these numbers shift – and if certain populations of students shift more than others – will provide important information on how COVID-19 has impacted NC schools and ultimately student performance. You can use the dashboard to track key indicators like the high school graduation rate, postsecondary completion rate, and Pre-K enrollment.

Where can counties learn more about key education data about their schools?

In our work with myFutureNC, we have also developed county attainment profiles. These profiles showcase county level data and are updated annually. The next release will be by Fall 2021. Tools currently being developed will allow users to compare key data elements across counties and, when available, over time and by demographic groups within the county. Patterns showing COVID-19’s impact will certainly emerge as we gather data from the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years.

What data is missing?

We also know that some of our indicators will not be available for at least a year due to COVID-19’s impact. For example, End-of-grade (EOG) tests, required by both federal and state government, provide important data as to whether students in grades 3-8 are college-and-career-ready in reading and math based on their scores. Because of school closures, however, the NC General Assembly granted the state Department of Instruction a waiver from administering the EOGs. On the state dashboard, we provide updates on if/when/why a data element cannot be updated.

Additional Data Resources on the impact of COVID-19 on K-12, colleges, and universities

There are a few additional resources that we have used to track the impact of COVID-19 on our education systems:

  • College Crisis Initiative @Davidson College : A team of Davidson College researchers collected data on how higher education institutions responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, including switching between in-person and remote instruction. They shared this data in a public dashboard to enhance understanding of how institutions responded to the crisis and provide a resource for planning for other potential crises.
  • National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) Research Center:  NSC, the research arm of the National Student Clearinghouse, works with higher education institutions, states, districts, high schools, and educational organizations to provide information about student educational pathways. Researchers at NSC are now highlighting the impact of the pandemic by tracking college enrollment trends in near real-time. They provide enrollment data dashboards, starting with summer 2020. Data available through NSC Research Center includes national, regional, and state-level data.

What’s next: What we want to learn about the impact of COVID-19 on schools and universities

The effects of COVID-19 on the educational system will be felt for decades to come. We’ll be analyzing data to understand: Will school enrollments rebound to pre-pandemic trends? Which communities and students were most impacted? Where in the education pipeline are these impacts most pronounced? And we will update our dashboards, county profiles, and FAFSA tracker with the latest data, so that educational leaders across the state can can better understand students’ academic success. If you have additional areas of inquiry that you’re interested in assessing, please reach out to us at demography@unc.edu