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Across North Carolina, almost 16,000 fewer kindergartners in average daily membership than last year

Since the earliest days of the new school year, national media have reported a decline in kindergarten enrollment nationwide amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, preliminary data from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI), released on Oct. 20, provides a first look at how many kindergartners are attending public schools across the state this year. North Carolina, along with 30 other states, does not require children to attend kindergarten.

Average daily membership (ADM) in kindergarten, a measurement the state uses to understand how many students are in schools, declined by 15.21% percent since last year across the state’s district schools.

The data is available for every grade level. This analysis focuses specifically on kindergarten data — the grade level that saw the steepest decline when compared with data from last year.

For an analysis of the overall data on North Carolina’s public school districts, read the article below.

The data

The new data is the Month 1 ADM by school for the 2020-21 school year. All but five districts in the state saw a decrease in Month 1 kindergarten ADM this year when compared to Month 1 kindergarten ADM last school year (2019-20), and total kindergarten ADM across all public schools districts declined by 15.21%.

ADM is a measurement that gives the state an idea of how many students are in schools. Districts receive funding based on their projected ADMs. If the actual ADM ends up being lower, they can face budget cuts. However, this year, the General Assembly passed a bill to hold districts harmless for ADM declines to ensure districts would not face budget cuts.

Here is DPI’s definition of ADM, which explains how it is calculated. Note that it is independent of student attendance:

The total number of school days within a given term, usually a school month or school year, that a student’s name is on the current roll of a class, regardless of his/her being present or absent, is the number of days in membership for that student. The sum of the number of days in membership for all students divided by the number of school days in the term yields ADM. Average daily membership is a more accurate count of the number of students in school than enrollment.

For more on what ADM is, watch Watauga County Schools Superintendent Scott Elliott explaining it in this video.

The comparison

In order to understand how kindergarten ADM differs this school year from past years, we compared the 2020-21 Month 1 kindergarten ADM data with 2019-20 Month 1 kindergarten ADM data and 2018-19 Month 1 kindergarten ADM dataThe original data for all three years can be found here under the subheading “Average Daily Membership and Membership Last Day by School (ADM & MLD).”

This analysis only includes the 116 public school districts in the state: 100 county districts, 15 city districts, and the Innovative School District. It does not include charter schools. Other analyses of this data have included charter schools, and therefore reflect different numbers.

In the 2020-21 Month 1 data, there are seven traditional public schools that are “pending,” meaning their data was not available at this time. Additionally, two schools in the 2020-21 Month 1 ADM data had no available data. They were removed from the data.

Changes in kindergarten ADM

Prior to this school year, kindergarten ADM increased slightly statewide (0.95%) from the 2018-19 school year to the 2019-20 school year. This year, however, kindergarten ADM declined 15.21%, moving from 103,367 kindergartners statewide in 2019-20 to 87,646 kindergartners this year.

That’s a difference of 15,721 kindergartners.

In the map below, hover over any district to see Month 1 kindergarten ADM data for the last three years. You will also see the percent change in Month 1 kindergarten ADM from 2018-19 to 2019-20 and 2019-20 to 2020-21. Dots represent city school districts and the Innovative School District.

Weldon City Schools had the greatest decrease in kindergarten ADM at -75.93%. Mount Airy City Schools had the greatest increase in kindergarten ADM at 43.68%.

Click here to access an Excel spreadsheet with our comparison of the data.

From Month 1 of 2019-20 to Month 1 of 2020-21:

  • 28 districts had a decrease in kindergarten ADM more than -20%.
  • 60 districts had a decrease in kindergarten ADM between -10% and -19.99%.
  • 23 districts had a decrease in kindergarten ADM between -0.1% and -9.99%.
  • 5 districts had an increase in kindergarten ADM.

For comparison, from Month 1 of 2018-19 to Month 1 of 2019-20:

  • 3 districts had a decrease in kindergarten ADM more than -20%.
  • 9 districts had a decrease in kindergarten ADM between -10% and -19.99%.
  • 38 districts had a decrease in kindergarten ADM between -0.1% and -9.99%.
  • 3 districts had the same ADM.
  • 63 districts had an increase in kindergarten ADM.

And a quick look at other grade levels…

As mentioned earlier, the ADM data is broken out by grade level. Below, find Month 1 ADM data for grades kindergarten through 12, organized by percent change from 2019-20 to 2020-21.

Kindergarten by far had the steepest decline in ADM of any grade level, followed by fifth grade (-8.02%) and 11th grade (-7.81%). Only one grade, 10th, had an ADM increase.

2019-20 ADM2020-21 ADMChange
Grade 5111,106102,193-8.02%
Grade 11107,56399,167-7.81%
Grade 4106,905100,120-6.35%
Grade 6112,043105,010-6.28%
Grade 2104,38498,311-5.82%
Grade 1104,35098,393-5.71%
Grade 3104,76399,183-5.33%
Grade 7112,922107,732-4.60%
Grade 9121,872117,849-3.30%
Grade 12100,35798,611-1.74%
Grade 8110,436109,736-0.63%
Grade 10106,752111,7244.66%

Note: ADM data also includes 13th grade and separate “grades” for students in extended day. Those fields contained very little data and therefore are not included in this chart, but those grades are included in this overall ADM analysis.

Our hope is that this data provides districts with context as they think about the strategies they need to deploy to locate and serve students who have not returned to school this year.

As you look at this data, if you have thoughts about what it means or reactions to it, please email me at or contact me on Twitter at @analisasorrells.

Analisa Sorrells

Analisa Sorrells is a Master in Public Policy candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School and previously worked as chief of staff and associate director of policy for EducationNC.