September 2019 From the Board Room

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From the Board Room: Activities of the NC Board of Education




The State Board of Education is comprised of the State Treasurer, the Lieutenant Governor and 11 citizens appointed by the Governor. This newsletter highlights the Board’s activities on behalf of the 1.5 million public school students in our state and the more than 100,000 educators who provide services to children. You may view all State Board of Education member and advisor information online. To access current and archived versions of From the Boardroom, visit the State Board of Education’s website.


2018-19 School Accountability Report Presented to State Board 


The performance of North Carolina public schools ticked up last year on the state’s annual School Performance Grade accountability measurement, with more schools meeting or exceeding expectations for student gains and more schools earning grades of As and Bs.


Accountability results were released to the State Board of Education at its meeting this month along with the four-year Cohort Graduation Rate for the class of 2019. The four-year rate, tracking students who entered 9th grade in 2015, shows that 86.5% of the cohort graduated last school year.


Approximately three quarters of the state’s 2,523 public schools met or exceeded their expectations for student progress, based on the results of end-of-grade and end-of-course tests in reading and math in elementary schools and English and math in high schools. In addition, the percentage of schools earning As and Bs increased to 37.3% from 35.6% during the 2017-18 school year.


Since 2013-14, when the state started assigning letter grades to schools based on a combination of proficiency and gains on year-end exams, the proportion of schools earning As and Bs has increased by 7.9 percentage points. During those same six years, the percentage of schools with Ds and Fs has fallen by 7.4 points to 21.7% in 2018-19.


In terms of subject-specific performance, 45.2% of students in grades 3-8 statewide scored at a level 4 or 5 in reading, considered to be Career and College Ready (CCR). When students who scored at a level 3 are included also, 57.2% of students in grades 3-8 were considered Grade Level Proficient (GLP).


Because new math tests were given in 2018-19, comparisons to previous years data is limited. In addition, performance on the new math tests is based on four academic achievement levels for last year instead of five: not proficient and levels 3, 4 and 5. The reading and science assessments will also use the four-level reporting system in the 2019-20 school year.


Results on the new math tests showed that 40.9% of students in grades 3-8 statewide scored a level 4 or 5, or CCR; 58.6% scored at the GLP level.


On science end-of-grade tests, administered in grades 5 and 8, students saw the strongest gains, with the percentage of 5th graders at the CCR standard climbing 3 points to 61.9% and 3.7 points at the GLP standard to 72.6%. Eighth graders gained 2.6 points, to 70.2%, on the CCR standard, and 3 points on the GLP standard, to 78.6%.


State Superintendent Mark Johnson said he thinks the science results reflect an effort by the department to support strong science curriculum in schools statewide and that is now mirrored also in efforts with K-3 literacy.


"We're trying to drive good curricula that we know works," Johnson said. "We'll be digging into those science strategies."


By the performance of individual grades statewide, eighth graders in 2018-19 made the biggest gain in reading proficiency, with a 1.4-point increase in GLP and a 1-point gain in CCR. Among high school students, performance improved on the end-of-course exam in Biology, for both the CCR and GLP standards, and on the CCR standard in English II.


Board member J.B. Buxton said the results during the last three years showed little progress for the state as a whole.


"It kind of looks like the state story is we're stuck in neutral," Buxton said. "In general, not a lot of progress."

NC Elementary Students Reading

Board Updated on Reading Initiative


K-3 Literacy Director Tara Galloway updated the board this month on the Department of Public Instruction's efforts to improve reading performance among students in early elementary school grades. Galloway outlined to the board nine key elements included in the state's Collaborative Guiding Framework for Early Literacy Education and presented a timeline for each element.


The framework is comprised of these nine components:


  • Develop a statewide definition of high-quality reading instruction
  • Improve focus on reading instruction in teacher preparation programs
  • Improve summer reading camp quality
  • Provide reading coach supports in low-performing schools and districts
  • Expand partnerships to support beginning teachers
  • Ensure high-quality reading curriculum and instructional materials in elementary schools
  • Explore a statewide system of training for teachers, principals and reading coaches on the science of reading
  • Provide flexibility in state funding to support district action on reading
  • Ensure access to high-quality pre-k and strong early learning environments and kindergarten transitions

As an additional measure, Board Chairman Eric Davis called for the formation of a literacy task force, noting that the board’s framework for action calls for a series of recommendations to improve the focus on reading instruction in teacher preparation programs.


“To support the development of those recommendations and ensure we have the participation of our partners in this important work,” Davis said, “the State Board will form a Literacy Instruction in Teacher Preparation Task Force. The task force will include representatives from the Department of Public Instruction, UNC system, N.C. Community College system, N.C. Independent Colleges and Universities, the Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission, N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching, and educators in our public schools.”


The task force will report back by March 2020 to the board’s Educator Standards and Preparation Committee, led by member Olivia Oxendine, with their recommendations for the board to consider and implement for preparation programs applying for or renewing approval beginning in July 2020.


Board Revises Calendar Report to the General Assembly


State Board members discussed and requested revisions to the start-and-end-date report required by the General Assembly for the first time this year.


The report was requested from the State Board and Department of Public Instruction after several districts adopted school calendars with their first day of school falling before Aug. 26 this year, which by state law was the earliest schools could open, or Aug. 19 for schools with a history of high numbers of snow days.


In all, 13 districts reported opening within the first two weeks of August, a number of them on the basis of following year-round programs, which are exempt from the calendar law. Changes to the report by the State Board provide a fuller explanation on what local districts are doing and the local decisions influencing the setting of the school calendar. The approved report signals board members’ understanding the decisions of local superintendents and districts and added the rationale they provided for their school calendars.


In all, 13 districts reported opening within the first two weeks of August, a number of them on the basis of following year-round programs, which are exempt from the calendar law. In approving the report, board members decided against second-guessing the decisions of local superintendents and districts and added the rationale they provided for their school calendars.


“We have taken a position as a board that we believe that schools should have greater flexibility for start and end dates,” said board Vice Chairman Alan Duncan. “Some superintendents thought they had asked the right questions and believed they were doing what was in the best interests of children in their communities.”


Board Chairman Eric Davis said he also supported the decisions of local superintendents.


“Our superintendents have been conscientious and a bit courageous in trying to work within the law for what’s in the best interest of students,” Davis said. “And there are others who, rightfully so, will advocate for a different calendar for their best interest.


“It’s up to us to lift up what’s in our students’ best interests, and this item squarely puts the calendar in our student’s best interests,” Davis said. “I feel strongly that this board needs to take a clear stand for our students, which is exactly what I see these superintendents doing.”


Teaching Quality Expert Advises Board on State’s Teacher Supply, Needs


A leading national expert on teaching quality urged board members during a wide- ranging issues session to demand more from teacher preparation programs to ensure that the state’s classrooms are staffed by teachers with strong skills and content knowledge.


Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teaching Quality, commended the state for taking positive steps towards lowering hurdles for teachers from out of state to work in North Carolina schools, for making efforts to improve teacher pay and for reducing the importance of master’s degrees.


But with less control over teacher compensation, which Walsh identified as one of the two key levers from improving teacher quality, state boards of education can have greater impact on setting high standards for new teachers and the programs from which they graduate.


“We need to do a much better job of preparing teachers in the United States,” Walsh said. “We have a lot of evidence that teacher preparation needs a lot of work.”


She highlighted reading – which she said is “job one” for North Carolina – as a crucial example. “We know how to teach kids how to read,” Walsh said. “That is as conclusive a finding as any in all education research. But we are not arming teachers, and we’re not insisting on curriculum that respects that research. This stuff is not being taught in schools of education. It’s rejected philosophically, and some professors who are teaching reading don’t know the research.”


Walsh said that in any other profession, that approach would be called malpractice. “They’re not respecting the science,” she said. She presented data to the board showing that 14 or 32 elementary teacher preparation programs in the state teach scientifically based methods of teaching reading.


In addition, she said, teachers for elementary classrooms often don’t get sufficient course work in mathematics while in college to teach the subject themselves.


“And we wonder why when we look an international tests, America is always at the middle and dropping,” Walsh said. “All those fundamental math skills are not attended to. If you’re not learning how to multiply and subtract and divide fractions in elementary grades, you’re not going to be prepared for algebra or any high school math.


“Don’t let anyone come in here and testify that it’s too hard for elementary teachers to be prepared in mathematics,” she said. “They need three solid courses that help them get ready for the classroom.”


Just one of 36 elementary teaching programs in the state requires the sufficient coursework, according to Walsh’s organization, with three others coming close.


Preparation in other content areas, such as science, social studies and English language arts is similarly weak for elementary teaching candidates, she said, with no elementary program directing candidates to specific coursework.


In short, Walsh told the board, teacher education programs nationally are too easy, and too much focus by state education authorities is on “outputs” – some measure of teacher effectiveness – and not enough attention is paid to “inputs” – such as the courses that teacher candidates take. She noted that research has found that schools of education award far more A grades to their students than other college majors.


And she also warned against discounting the importance of teacher licensing exams.

“There’s a lot of push right now in states across the country – they’re saying, ‘The tests are a barrier to teaching. The tests are keeping qualified minorities out of the classroom.”


Without such standards, Walsh said, “the United States would be the only country in the world that’s developed that doesn’t have any milestones someone has to reach to be a teacher.


“What kind of message does that send to future teachers?” said asked. “We’re saying this is the easiest major on campus. You’re likely to graduate with all As. You don’t have to go through any hurdles to get there. And we’re not even going to make sure you know what we think is important.”


Walsh also urged the board to begin reporting actual pass rates of all candidates taking licensing exams to put pressure on preparation programs to ensure that their students are well prepared.


“These are programs that take tuition dollars and take two-to-three years of someone’s time, but don’t see it as their obligation to make sure that they’re successful on the state tests,” Walsh said. “That’s not found in any other profession.”


She said the first-time pass rate for nursing exams is 85%; the first-time pass rate on the most widely used exam in 23 states for teachers at the elementary level is 46 percent.


Student Advisors Join State Board


Board members this month welcomed two new student advisors to fill the two non-voting high school positions that have been vacant for an extended period.


Joining the board are Meredith Gaskill, a senior at Carson High School in the Rowan-Salisbury district, and Nate Kolk-Tomberlin, a junior at Apex High School in Wake County.


Here’s some of what Meredith said in her application for the board post:

“I am passionate about the success of young people and I recognize the importance of education in this process, I’m not afraid of voicing my opinion, and my entire formal educational experience has been in NC’s public school system so I can offer a current and past perspective.


The world we live in is increasingly more complex due to globalization and the pace of technological change. Education is critically important in preparing students for this world and must adapt to the changing needs of society. As one who is passionate about every student pursuing their full potential and positively impacting the world, I am excited about the possibility of working with the SBE on their tremendously important role.


Education is a topic frequently discussed in my household as my mother and sister are both educators. This, combined with my experiences and discussing education within my community, has made me a more thoughtful student who is comfortable respectfully expressing my reasoned opinions.


As a life-long public school student, I am keenly aware of the rewards and challenges of NC’s public school system. I would happily use my current and past experiences to give the board insights from a student’s perspective.


Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” I would welcome the opportunity to be an advocate for fellow and future students in North Carolina.”


Nate said he applied for the student advisor position because he believes he can bring a fair and objective view of his peer’s opinions and perspectives to the State Board of Education and he wants to learn about politics at the state level.