North Carolina’s Promising Approach to Learning Recovery


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The author would like to thank his collaborators at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction for their contributions to the post, including: 

As the education landscape continues to be impacted by school closures, quarantines and staffing uncertainties resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, states have been working hard to reduce the long-term effects of related interrupted instruction 

In March 2021, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction State Superintendent Catherine Truitt developed a strategic plan called Operation Polaris to respond to interrupted instruction in the state. As a part of Operation Polaris, the Office of Learning Recovery and Acceleration has shown promising results for students by providing information and support for evidence-based decision-making by public school units. The OLR’s collaborative organizational structure includes a Research and Evaluation team, a Program and ESSER Funding Administration team, and an Innovation Strategy team. Each team contributes a vital piece in supporting student learning and ensuring districts receive collaborative support. 

Data Use  

A key element of North Carolina’s approach is the use of data insights to empower district leaders. Rachel Wright Junio, director of the OLR, created a matrix to help districts analyze program implementation, identify challenges and align for change during a state-wide convening on learning recovery. Districts and schools could then use this tool in concert with new datasets provided by the Research and Evaluation team. This collaborative approach fosters evidence-based practices, adherence to the implementation process and infrastructure readiness. 

In March 2022, a collaboration between the department of public instruction and the SAS Institute led to a Recovery Analysis Report on the gains the state made following interrupted instruction. Through an analysis of student performances using assessment data from the 2021-22 school year against pre-pandemic expectations, the findings indicate substantial academic recovery across different populations, subjects and grade levels. This new dataset provided historic visibility to various student groups to ensure personalized instruction can occur for all students. 

ESSER Allocations 

The department’s allocation of ESSER funds has empowered districts to tailor resources to their unique needs with the goal of a targeted and impactful response. The state’s COVID-19 allocation expenditure dashboard provides a clear view of how funds are being used. OLR’s ARP ESSER III program supports further district collaborations through learning cohorts. These cohorts enable the sharing of successful initiatives and guide districts in scaling these programs. Learning modules within OLR provide comprehensive guidance and address topics such as monitoring, acceleration, progress and impact. 

Central to North Carolina’s approach and its emphasis on data transparency and accessibility is the department’s Strategic Dashboard Monitoring Tool, which offers equitable access to a wealth of education data that empowers stakeholders to make informed decisions. From state-level insights to individual school data, this transparency fosters data-driven decision-making at all levels. For instance, the ability to dissect data revealed previously unaccounted student groups such as military-connected students and highlighted their performance trends based on regional or subject variations. 

“We believe really strongly that over the last two, almost three years, that we’ve really proven the value-add of this agency support model,” Andrew Smith, assistant state superintendent said. North Carolina’s journey transcends the immediate challenges of interrupted instruction, embracing innovation to navigate a dynamic education landscape.  

As North Carolina looks ahead, its approach serves as a testament to the potential of collaborative innovation, data-driven insights and a steadfast commitment to empowering every student. This innovative approach provides a blueprint for shaping a more resilient and responsive education system that supports student success. 

Author profile
State Relations Associate

Ben supports the State Relations Team by engaging with key state education policymakers and assisting with their policy priorities. He is a graduate of the University of Colorado Denver Business School, is an Army reservist and most recently worked for the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies, following experience at the Colorado State Legislature and a college library. Ben also has a passion for music.

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