January 2020 From the Board Room

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

January 2020



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.


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State Board Approves New Graduation Requirements for Social Studies Courses


To accommodate a new course in personal finance required by the General Assembly, the State Board of Education this month approved a proposal from the Department of Public Instruction to collapse the state’s two high school courses in American History required for graduation into a single course.


While several board members applauded the addition of a course in personal finance, members also echoed concerns they’ve heard from teachers and others about condensing American history into a single course.


“I’d like to lament at great length the loss of the American history course,” board Vice Chairman Alan Duncan said. “I’ll summarize with a fairly well-known quote: ‘Those who do not learn and understand their history are destined to repeat it.’ I do worry about that.” Duncan said he sympathizes with those who say American history shouldn’t be reduced to one course.


Board member Olivia Oxendine said she’s heard from a few teachers “who are concerned how they can teach all of American history in one semester [on a block schedule].”


Department of Public Instruction staff who presented the agency’s proposal assured the board that key elements of the discontinued course would be integrated into a newly constituted civic literacy course, also required by the General Assembly, to replace the state’s current Civics and Economics course. Staff also told the board that the requirement of a single course in American history is consistent with 47 states, making North Carolina more of an exception than the rule.


Board member Amy White said she’s confident that a single course can work for teachers and students. “For me, this is about DPI providing great communication about standards and suggested pacing and how to capture it all in one year.” With the new civics course and its focus on the nation’s founding principles, White said she sees the combination of the two courses as “American history plus.”


The new course in economics and personal finance is an important addition to the state’s graduation requirements, several board members said, and already is winning support from students.


“I wish this would have happened when I was an incoming freshman,” said Meredith Gaskill, one of the board’s student advisors. “It would have prepared me so much more for the real world.”


Mariah Morris, the 2019 Teacher of the Year and an advisor to the board, said that students she spoke with in her husband’s Civics and Economics class were “pumped” about a course focusing on economics and personal finance.


“Hands down they want this class,” Morris said. “They are hungry for it. They want to know about credit and debit. They want to know about taxes, how to budget, how to get grants for college, what fraud is, how to get a mortgage.”


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Board Focuses on Grade Retention Required Under Read to Achieve Law


Prompted by third-grade retention and promotion data provided last month by State Superintendent Mark Johnson and reported widely in the media, the State Board of Education focused an in-depth discussion this month on a key provision of the state’s Read to Achieve law requiring that students advance from third grade as proficient readers.


Johnson told the board that he asked for a “top-to-bottom” review by DPI staff of the implementation of the Read to Achieve program following recent reports showing that many students weren’t achieving reading proficiency despite a significant investment of time and resources. Johnson said that as a result of improper policy guidance approved by the State Board several years ago, schools and districts have been promoting students who should have been held back in third grade because they failed to meet the Read to Achieve standard.


“No one at DPI is blaming superintendents or principals,” Johnson said. “You can tell from the data that they were not proficient, but unfortunately, students kept moving on.”


He attributed the change to former DPI staff, who he said set the incorrect policy guidance for districts about promotion and retention decisions. He said he’s now asked a group of local superintendents to work on a solution.


“Let’s make this not about his one violation,” Johnson said. “Let’s make this about how do we improve Read to Achieve.”


Board member JB Buxton, who leads the board’s Student Learning and Achievement Committee, told Johnson that the board is looking towards changes in policy that will help students.


“The point of this board is to make sure we have policy that is best responsive to the needs of students and the teachers who teach them and the principals who supervise them and the district superintendents who lead them,” Buxton said. “That is all we want. The best policy. If we need to make amendments to policy that better do that, we are ready to do that.


“I want to shift this to how we are supporting students, and I don’t want to talk about whatever rogue employees or whatever it might be,” he said. “I have no idea, and no one at this table does since they weren’t here. We want to focus on what we do moving forward.”


The board also heard school- and district-level perspectives from advisor educators and others about the retention provision that is part of Read to Achieve.


“It’s important that teachers have a voice in whether a student is retained in a third-grade class – in conjunction with parents, the administration, EC services and others,” said Mariah Morris, the Teacher of the Year who previously served as Moore County’s Read to Achieve coordinator. “It’s very detrimental to take away the option of looking at a student holistically.”


Sherri Miller, K-12 literacy director for Wake County Schools, told the board that a gap exists between the expectations of Read to Achieve and the capacity of teachers and schools to help students achieve them.


“Do teachers have the knowledge to do this work,” Miller asked. “They are working hard with the knowledge and resources that they have.”


Wake County Superintendent Cathy Moore told the board that the adequacy and quality of support for students and teachers is of greater importance than whether a student is promoted or retained.


“We recognize that whenever the topic of Read to Achieve comes up, a lot of that discussion is focused on this retention vs. promotion issue,” Moore said. “A preponderance of available research will tell you that whatever the grade-level designation is attached to a struggling reader matters far less than what is done to support that student – retained or not, promoted or not.


“The quality of instruction and the interventions provided,” she said, “will have a far greater impact and achieve lasting outcomes that don’t occur with either retention or social promotion.”


“Out teachers work hard,” Moore said. “We have an obligation as state leadership and district leadership to provide our teacher with the training, the resources, the tools they need to ensure that our students receive high levels of quality teaching and learning.


“If we’re not doing those things, then the conversation about promotion and retention become sidebars that don’t advance higher levels of teaching and learning.”

Charter School check mark

State Board Reviews Advisory Panel Recommendations for Charter School Renewals


The State Board reviewed a number of charter school renewals recommended by the Charter School Advisory Board in advance of a formal vote in February.


Each charter school that the State Board authorizes has a time-limited charter term that is not guaranteed for renewal.  When entering their renewal cycle, schools must complete a thorough self-study, respond to any noncompliance issues, and have a renewal site visit.  These renewal site visits permit the schools to bring in multiple groups of stakeholders – parents, teachers, and board members – to provide insight on the school’s daily operations.


As part of the renewal process, the Office of Charter Schools compiled a renewal portfolio for each school; the portfolio consists of information gathered through examined DPI compliance forms and renewal site visit to each school, and academic and enrollment data of the school and the local school district in which the school resides. The CSAB held a final review Dec. 9 of the schools to determine final recommendations to be submitted to the State Board.


The Charter School Advisory Board recommended 10-year charter renewal for: 

  • Excelsior Classical Academy
  • Henderson Collegiate
  • Kestrel Heights School
  • Lake Lure Classical
  • Northeast Academy of Aero Tech
  • Winterville Charter Academy

A seven-year renewal was recommended for:

  • Charlotte Lab School
  • KIPP Durham College Prep
  • Mountain Island Charter School
  • PreEminent Charter
  • Queen City STEM School
  • Shining Rock Classical Academy: CFA
  • Youngsville Academy

A five-year renewal was recommended for:

  • PAVE Southeast Raleigh Charter School
  • Piedmont Classical High School
  • Wilmington Prep Academy

A three-year renewal was recommended for:

  • Rocky Mount Preparatory
  • VERITAS Community School, CFA

Non-Renewal was recommended for:

  • Ignite Innovation Academy

Board Awards 10 Title 1 Schools with Federally Funded Innovative Partnership Grants


The State Board approved Innovative Partnership Grants to 10 Title 1 schools identified for Comprehensive Support and Improvement under the state’s Every Student Succeeds Act plan because of low academic achievement.


Out of the 105 schools that were identified as CSI schools in 2019, 34 submitted applications. Schools were selected on the basis of a number of criteria, including an evaluation of their capability to make the greatest impact in terms of school improvement.


The grant requires – and pays for – a collaborative partner organization to support a research-based strategy that each of the awarded schools will adopt to raise student performance with the goal of exiting CSI status. Each school is eligible to receive up to $1.5 million during the five-year period of the grant.


A second competition will be launched early in February – potentially identifying an

additional 14 to 16 award recommendations for a second cohort of Innovative Partnership Grant schools.


These schools were awarded grants in the initial round:

  • Southside-Ashpole Elementary, Innovative School District
  • Bessemer Elementary, Guilford County Schools
  • Brogden Middle, Durham Public Schools
  • Alger B. Wilkins High School, Cumberland County Schools
  • Turning Point Academy, Cleveland County
  • Otis Hairston Middle, Guilford County Schools
  • Community High School, Buncombe County
  • Welborn Middle, Guilford County Schools
  • Ashley Chapel Educational Center, Richmond County
  • Jackson Middle, Guilford County Schools

Early Childhood Learning

Proposed Kindergarten Entry Assessment (KEA) Updates - New Name, Features


The state’s Kindergarten Entry Assessment, which is administered within the first 60 days of school to kindergartners in North Carolina public schools, is being improved to better serve students, teachers and administrators, State Board members learned this month. It’s also getting a new name: NC Early Learning Inventory.


Dan Tetreault, an early education consultant for DPI, outlined a list of changes for the assessment, designed to help educators better understand the knowledge and skills of kindergarten students as they start school. The formative assessment is made-up of five critical components that focus on the whole child and to guide instruction around the individual needs of each child.


Tetreault told the board that the KEA is being improved to align more closely with the state’s pre-kindergarten program and other pre-k providers, many of which use a version of the same assessment. In addition, he explained, the changes are aimed at making a number of other improvements, many sought by educators working with young children in the schools.


Among those changes, he said, are these:

  • More support for social and emotional learning
  • New aggregate reporting for administrators
  • Embedded online professional development that can earn CEUs
  • More online resources for teachers, administrators and families
  • Intentional teaching experiences that are aligned to the developmental progressions measured by the assessment

Board member Amy White urged better communications with parents and others who provide services to children prior to kindergarten so they have a clear understanding of the skills and knowledge expected of students starting school.


“My advocacy point would be that we communicate early and often through as many stakeholders as possible, including medical providers,” White said. “We need a list of items that will be assessed that we start communicating when children are 3 so that parents don’t arrive when children are 5 and say that I didn’t know they should know their letters or numbers or know how to hold a pair of scissors.”

ESEA distinguished school

Two Schools Earn Recognition as NC ESEA Distinguished Schools


State Board members honored two schools – Pitt Early College High School and D.F. Walker Elementary School in Edenton-Chowan – for national recognition as ESEA Distinguished Schools.


For the second consecutive year, Pitt Early College was selected in the category of high performance. D.F. Walker Elementary was chosen for high progress. The National Association of ESEA State Program Administrators sponsors the annual awards program.


Selected schools demonstrate a wide array of strengths, including team approaches to teaching and learning, focused professional development opportunities for staff, individualized programs for student success and strong partnerships between the school, parents, and the community.  What makes National ESEA Distinguished Schools’ stories especially powerful are the documented student achievement gains that have resulted from their collaborative and targeted efforts and innovations.