The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI), using federal relief funds, launched the Office of Learning Recovery & Acceleration (OLR) to help their schools navigate the challenges of the pandemic. The Office aims to identify the most promising and effective investments to get students back on track and establish a long-term and data-driven approach to understanding and accelerating pandemic-era learning. With OLR at the forefront of the state’s school recovery strategy, DPI worked to prioritize the role of data, research, and program evaluation to encourage and empower smart and impactful district investments. Across the state, DPI regularly asks districts to identify their recovery progress as one of three stages: triage, transition, and transformation – and then uses the information to target supports based on district and local needs.
North Carolina Launches Office of Learning Recovery + Acceleration
State Strategy & Vision
Why It Matters
Because of the chaos of school closures and the rapid speed with which schools and districts needed to begin shifting resources, few states were able to provide districts with a clear picture of the severity of the challenge. DPI’s Learning Loss Report and subsequent launching of a dedicated office for measuring and strengthening learning recovery provided a rare foundation for schools and districts in the state. District leaders were better able to confidently begin directing relief funding to large investments in instruction, tutoring, and after-school and summer school programs – all informed and strengthened by a clearer understanding of what students needed most. The report found widespread learning loss in nearly all subjects and grades, but particularly underscores steep declines in mathematics and science, and subsequently informed a $36 million statewide investment in a middle school math intervention, and an expansion of district-based tutoring programs.
As recovery progresses, OLR remains focused on engaging educators and district leaders, including through professional development opportunities tied to continuing education courses, on monitoring student and program progress, collecting and reporting data, and implementing bold new instructional programs.
North Carolina prioritized investing federal dollars based on student learning, learning loss, and the challenges of remote and hybrid instruction.
What They Did
At the onset of the pandemic, DPI prioritized making recovery investments with federal dollars based on the most accurate evidence available on student learning, learning loss, and the challenges of remote and hybrid instruction. With direction from the North Carolina General Assembly, who was ultimately responsible for approving and distributing federal relief funds, DPI conducted a comprehensive study on the performance of North Carolina students from 2020-2021.
The resulting report, titled “COVID-19 Impact Analysis of Lost Instructional Time,” found high rates of learning loss across all grades and content areas, with particularly concerning declines in middle school math and science. The report also helped districts and schools begin to identify which students were impacted most severely by school closures, the types of supports schools could prop up to maximize student outreach, engagement, and learning acceleration, and promising practices that were showing early results and deserved additional consideration. Using the report’s findings – which were gleaned from data captured in summer school programs during summer 2020 – DPI then spearheaded an expansion and refinement of statewide summer school offerings, committing nearly $64 million dollars to implement two new summer learning options – a Summer Bridge program and a Summer Career Accelerator. The structure and scope of these offerings were a direct result of data and findings from DPI’s initial learning loss report.
To continue a focus on student data and results, OLR is also preparing a second learning loss report slated for the 2023 school year and has issued a $6 million RFP to fund up to 20 additional studies and evaluations of pandemic-era programs.
“Importantly, these findings also have the potential to show us which district- and charter-led learning recovery and acceleration programs and interventions are working well for students across the state,” said Dr. Michael Maher, executive director of the Office of Learning Recovery. “We look forward to connecting with these schools and districts to highlight those promising practices and elevating them to assist others. Our work in OLR has only just begun and in the coming months, we will work with district and state leaders to decide which next-level analyses are needed to best serve students.”