Greg Childress joined NC Policy Watch in December 2018 after nearly 30 years of reporting and editorial writing at The Herald-Sun in Durham. His most recent reporting assignment was covering K-12 education in Chapel Hill and Durham and Orange Counties. [email protected] Follow Greg @gchild6645

State school accountability report shows pandemic’s lingering impact

School accountability data from the 2020-21 school year show lower graduation rates, lower rates of proficiency on state tests and more schools designated as low-performing under North Carolina’s A-F school grade performance model.

The N.C. Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) released the data during the State Board of Education’s monthly meeting on Thursday.

“While these results are sobering, they are not unexpected,” said Michael Maher, deputy superintendent for the division of standards, accountability and research, reminding the state board of the chaos the pandemic caused in K-12 education across the nation.

Fifty-one percent of the test takers were proficient on state exams last school year. In 2020-21, 45% passed state tests and 59% of students passed them in 2018-19, the school year before the pandemic. (NCDPI unveiled a new testing dashboard on Thursday.)

Maher noted that North Carolina’s test data was released on the same day the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shared a report showing that 9-year-olds lost significant ground in math and reading during the pandemic. The results show the largest average score decline in reading since 1990. The decline in mathematics was the first ever according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

“We are not alone in this,” Maher said. “North Carolina is not the only state experiencing this issue.”

The state’s 4-year cohort graduation rate was 86.2%, a modest decline from the 87% reported in 2020-21. The rate was largely unchanged from the 86.5% rate in 2018-19.

State officials expected a “significant decline” in the graduation rate, Maher said.

“What we saw in terms of our graduation rate is not nearly as significant as I would have expected, and I think we owe a lot of gratitude to teachers and school leaders who spent months in the summer helping students not only recapture credits but earn initial credits during summer learning programs.”

Maher said students will require years of additional learning to recover from pandemic-related learning loss.

“We have talked about four years,” Maher said.

Here are some of the accountability data NCDPI shared in a press release:

  • Overall, math scores in elementary and middle school grades were up more significantly than reading scores. The scores on science exams, given at grades 5 and 8, also showed more significant gains, at both the CCR (Career and College Ready) and GLP (Grade Level Proficiency) levels, with grade 8 approaching 2018-19 performance.
  • Among end-of-course exams administered in high school grades, scores on the Math 3 exam exceeded the 2018-19 pre-pandemic performance, while scores on Math 1 and Biology exams improved from the 2020-21 years. Scores on the English II exam remained unchanged for the CCR level and were down slightly at the GLP level.
  • For 2021-22, 864 schools have been identified as low performing, up from 488 in 2018-19. The number of low-performing districts increased to 29 from eight in 2018-19.

Low-performing schools are those that receive a performance grade of D or F and do not exceed growth. Low-performing districts are those where most schools received a performance grade and have been identified as low performing.

Tammy Howard, senior director of the office of accountability and testing, cautioned that the 2021-22 test data must be considered within the context of COVID disruptions and 2018-19 data. The data isn’t intended to evaluate effort or draw conclusions, Howard said.

“Since March 2020, the changes in instruction, particularly related to time and place, restrict the feasibility of typical comparisons of student achievement across years,” Howard said. “Educational data must be viewed as before, during, and eventually after COVID.”

Eighty percent of the A-F school performance grade is based on test scores while 20 percent is based on students’ academic growth over a school year.

Educators and public school advocates argue that student growth is a more accurate picture of  the learning that has taken place in classrooms.

“I share the same concerns of many educators, parents and others who have raised concerns for years about the fairness of the grades,” Truitt said. “The current accountability model does not do justice to the hard work that teachers and students put in every day in schools across the state, and I look forward to working with stakeholders to consider other metrics important to determining school quality.”

NCDPI staffers noted that high school performance grades were negatively impacted by a new ACT benchmark score. The minimum score to enroll in UNC System schools increased from 17 to 19.

The percentage of 11th graders achieving the new UNC minimum of 19 was 41.7, compared to 55.2% in 2020-21 at the previous minimum score of 17. Had the benchmark score remained unchanged at 17, 54.6% of students would have earned the required score.

State to use federal COVID- 19 money to avoid severe pay cuts for school principals

Catherine Truitt

There’s good news for hundreds of North Carolina principals facing severe pay cuts of up to $18,000 due to changes to the state budget that ties salaries to one year of student test data instead of three.

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt will introduce a plan at next week’s State Board of Education (SBE) meeting that  uses federal Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief (ESSER) III funds to hold as many as 360 principals “harmless” to the change that goes into effect on Jan. 1.

“We are thrilled that we can hold our principals harmless given the incredibly challenging and extenuating circumstances that the pandemic brought into our schools,” Truitt said in a statement. “Their paychecks certainly shouldn’t be dictated by the uncertainty they absorbed and yet heroically managed through the 2021-22 school year.”

Truitt said the changes coming next year had a positive impact on many principals, especially those who became principals during the last three years. But the move negatively impacts about 15% percent of principals whose schools had a record of high performance before the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.

The potential pay cuts range from $7,200 to $18,000, Truitt said.

North Carolina’s 2022 Wells Fargo Principal of the Year, Patrick Greene, said Truitt’s plan brings “clarity and certainty” to principals.

ESSER III funding was provided by the federal government to support public schools and may be used to ensure the retention of principals who proved to be high performing. Truitt’s plan will cost $4.5 million over the 12-month period.

The State Board will consider the funding proposal Sept. 1 during its regular monthly meeting. Once approved by the board, the agency will develop an allotment policy and application for districts that would be disseminated later this year.

N.C. Association of Educators responds to report exposing a widening teacher pay gap

Source: N.C. School Superintendents Association

The N. C. Association of Educators (NCAE) responded Tuesday to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) that attribute a nationwide teacher retention crisis to a growing “pay penalty” between teachers and similarly qualified professionals.

EPI, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank that focuses on economic policies impacting low-and middle-income workers, reports a “pay penalty” of 20% or higher between teachers and other professionals with comparable degrees in more than half of the nation’s states.

The report shows a 24.5 % “pay penalty” between North Carolina teachers and other comparable college-educated workers.

“Let’s be clear: North Carolina’s public schools are facing the same manufactured teacher retention crisis happening nationwide as a direct result of low teacher pay and inadequate funding,” said NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly said in a statement.

Walker Kelly noted that North Carolina is having difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers while sitting on a $6 billion dollar budget surplus.

“By any definition, claiming to have additional funds in strict defiance of multiple court orders to fulfill their fiduciary responsibility to public education, amounts to taking money directly from the hands of students, teachers, and school support staff,” Kelly said.

Like many states, North Carolina’s public schools are reporting historic teacher and staff shortages. Superintendents reported 11,297 teacher and staff vacancies in a recent N.C. School Superintendents Association survey with days left before the start of the new school year for students attending schools on a traditional calendar. Most of the state’s K-12 students attend schools on a traditional calendar.

The EPI report is timely, said Kelly, because it comes while state education leaders consider a proposal to overhaul teacher licensure and compensation standards to improve recruitment and retention. The Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission is expected to deliver a final draft of the proposed standard revisions to the State Board of Education next month.

The NCAE is opposed to the proposed pay standard, arguing that it’s akin to merit pay because it links teacher pay, in part, to student scores on standardized tests. The teacher advocacy organization is also concerned about a licensure provision to allow people with associate’s degrees to teach while earning a bachelor’s degree.

“The current teacher retention crisis is not about our licensure system,” Kelly added. “It’s disingenuous to say so, and unethical for our state’s highest-ranking education officials to do so in support of a deeply flawed and unpopular plan to de-professionalize teaching.”

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt, State Board of Education Chairman Eric Davis and other supporters of the proposed teacher and licensure standards revisions deny that it would move the state to a merit pay model.

“There’s simply not enough tested subjects to base compensation on student testing,” Davis said. “However, there are countless teachers in all years of experience across our state who today are creating positive outcomes for their students and who are not being sufficiently recognized, learned from or rewarded for their great work.”

NC Association of Educators: Licensure and compensation proposal won’t solve recruitment and retention problems

NCAE vice president, Bryan Proffitt (left), explains the group’s opposition to a new teacher compensation plan at a Tuesday press conference. Photo: Greg Childress

Bryan Proffitt, vice president of the NC Association of Educators, was working as a furniture packer in 2004 when offered his first K-12 teaching job.

The competition for teaching positions in North Carolina was so fierce, Proffitt remembers, that he didn’t get a job offer until two weeks into the new school year despite having an advanced degree, teaching license, great recommendations and two years of experience as a university instructor under his belt.

“I was packing up someone’s house when I got the call that I got a job,” Proffitt said during an NCAE press conference Tuesday. “It was like getting called up to the majors. I couldn’t believe it.”

A lot has changed in 18 years, Proffitt said. Teaching jobs in the state are no longer coveted, and many educators are making the hard decision to quit the profession due to low pay and terrible working conditions. School districts are reporting hundreds of vacancies with only a few weeks left before the start of school.

Proffitt said a new licensing and compensation proposal backed by state education leaders to replace the state’s seniority-based teacher salary system with one that partially rewards teachers for student performance on state tests now threatens to make North Carolina’s teacher recruitment and retention efforts even more difficult.

He and a dozen or more educators, parents and supporters gathered at the Halifax Mall on Tuesday to push back against the plan educators complain relies too heavily on student test scores to reward teachers and does little to address recruitment and retention challenges.

“With respect to recruitment, we already know what works and what we can build upon,” Proffitt said. “North Carolina’s university system and its high-quality schools of education have been a source of great strength in our state for decades. Reinvest in our schools of education and expand programs that work like Teaching Fellows into our state’s historically black universities in order to recruit a teaching force that better reflects of state’s racial diversity.”

The NC Teaching Fellows is a merit-based, loan forgiveness program that provides up to $8,250 a year for up to four years to students who agree to teach in the fields of special education or S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics) in state schools. Currently, the program’s eight universities include three minority-serving schools, North Carolina A&T and Fayetteville State universities and UNC Pembroke.

To keep educators in schools, Proffitt said the state must continue to pay them based on experience.

“Start every teacher in the state at a minimum of $45,000 and return to the annual experience steps and cost-of-living increases that historically have allowed veteran educators to stay in our classrooms with our kids,” Proffitt said. “Experience-based pay keeps high-quality educators in schools.”

The Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission (PEPSC) presented a draft proposal of the new system — labeled “North Carolina Pathways to Excellence for Teaching Professionals” — to the State Board of Education in April. If the proposal is approved and implemented, standardized tests, principal and peer evaluations, and student surveys would be used to determine whether a teacher is effective.

The proposal would create a system of entry-level certifications with the goal of bringing more people into the profession. One certification under the plan would serve essentially as a learner’s permit. It would allow aspiring educators with associate degrees to teach for two years while they earn a bachelor’s degree.

The new model also creates multiple steps at which educators can advance in the profession, including “expert” and “advanced” teaching roles that allow them to earn higher pay for taking on additional responsibilities such as coaching novice teachers.

The NCAE press conference came just days after two of the state’s top education leaders made bold statements in support of revisions to the state’s licensure and pay program.

At last Thursday’s State Board of Education meeting, State Board of Education Chairman Eric Davis and State Superintendent Catherine Truitt said changes are needed to improve teacher recruitment and retention.

Davis said North Carolina is in a “crisis” because too few students are enrolling in schools of education while veteran teachers are leaving the profession at alarming rates.

“In short, our state is in a teaching crisis that’s having a significant, negative impact on today’s students, and if not corrected will damage our state for generations to come,” Davis said.

The educators who joined Proffitt on Tuesday say they are skeptical about the changes they believe will deemphasize teaching experience. Davis and Truitt both deny the plan would move the state to a “merit pay” system.

Kiana Espinoza, an eighth-grade English teacher, said family and friends often ask how long she can continue to work in a profession that doesn’t provide adequate pay.

“My answer to them is that I can afford to be a teacher right now, but in a few years when I have more expenses and a family, who knows?” Espinoza said.

Susan Book, a Wake County parent and member of NC Families for Testing Reform, said she is concerned about teacher vacancies and the move to rely on student test scores to reward teachers.

“If you thought North Carolina’s teaching to the test was bad before, this system only increases the chances that it will get worse,” Book said. “That’s months of testing prep when our kids could be learning new material and expanding their creativity. I want our teachers to be more than a test score as well. Experience matters and I’m listening to teachers.”

Citing ‘teaching crisis,’ state education leaders back new licensure and compensation plan

North Carolina teachers marched for better pay.

The state has a “teaching crisis” and must revamp its licensing and compensation system to recruit and retain quality teachers, Eric Davis, the chairman of the State Board of Education, said Thursday.

Davis noted that teacher vacancies throughout North Carolina are “soaring” while enrollment in “colleges of education has fallen over the last few years.”

“In short, our state is in a teaching crisis that’s having a significant, negative impact on today’s students, and if not corrected will damage our state for generations to come,” Davis said.

The chairman brushed back claims that the proposal is a backdoor attempt to implement an unwanted system of merit pay for teachers.

Eric Davis

“There’s simply not enough tested subjects to base compensation on student testing,” Davis said. “However, there are countless teachers in all years of experience across our state who today are creating positive outcomes for their students and who are not being sufficiently recognized, learned from or rewarded for their great work.”

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt joined Davis on Thursday to offer a full-throated endorsement of the proposed changes she contends will allow teachers to advance in their careers and be rewarded and recognized for improving academic outcomes for students.

Catherine Truitt

“They [teachers] deserve the chance to climb the ladder without having to leave the classroom for administration,” Truitt said.

A day after Davis and Truitt made their remarks, the N.C. Association of  Educators announced that it will hold a press conference Tuesday at 10 a.m., on Halifax Mall to push back against changes the organization says would replace an experienced-based pay system for “untested methods” that heavily rely on standardized test scores, peer evaluations and student surveys to determine whether teachers keep their licenses.

Here is what the NCAE said about the proposal in a press release:

“Decades of defunding public education and cutting teacher pay have long forced experienced teachers out of the profession, and the pandemic exacerbated the staffing crisis, with some districts reporting hundreds of resignations. The proposed changes do nothing to get at the root of the cause of low recruitment and retention numbers. Instead, it lowers the standards to become a teacher disguised as increasing pathways to enter the profession, a risky gamble for our state’s important investment: our students.”

In addition to revising how teachers are paid, the new proposal would create a system of entry-level certifications with the goal of bringing more people into the profession. One certification under the plan would serve essentially as a learner’s permit, that would allow aspiring educators with associate degrees to teach for two years while they earn a bachelor’s degree.

The new model creates multiple steps at which educators can advance in the profession, including “expert” and “advanced” teaching roles that allow them to earn higher pay for taking on additional responsibilities such as coaching novice teachers.

Truitt has said that it’s wrong to label the proposal “merit pay.”

“We’re trying to address the ongoing, pervasive challenge that many teachers feel that they do all of this extra work, which is tantamount to volunteer work that they’re not compensated for,” the superintendent said in April during a State Board of Education meeting.

Davis’ and Truitt’s defense of the controversial proposal was quickly criticized on social media on Thursday.

“The current teaching crisis is not about our licensure system,” tweeted NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly. “Chairman “[Eric] Davis (and others) are being incredibly disingenuous by continuing to repeat that to push a deeply disliked plan. #nced”

The Professional Educator Preparation and Standards Commission (PEPSC) presented a draft proposal of the new system — labeled “North Carolina Pathways to Excellence for Teaching Professionals” — to the State Board of Education in April. If the proposal is approved and implemented, standardized tests, principal and peer evaluations, and student surveys would be used to determine whether a teacher is effective.

The State Board is expected to consider the changes in the fall. Davis said that whatever is approved then is unlikely to be the final version of the plan. He believes the new method will be continuously revised and updated as more feedback is received from educators and other stakeholders. Davis urged teachers to email [email protected] to share their feedback.

As Policy Watch previously reported, Justin Parmenter, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg middle school teacher and education policy commentator who writes at the website at Notes from the Chalkboard, has taken on a leading position in pushing back against the new licensing and compensation model.

Parmenter said in a Facebook post that Truitt was being disingenuous Thursday when she claimed that the process that produced the draft licensure and compensation plan has been thorough and open.

“Are you serious right now?” Parmenter wrote in the post. “I’m so glad to hear Truitt has had a complete change of heart since March, when she wanted to dissuade EdNC’s editor Mebane Rash from surveying educators.  Or April, when she “wanted to squash outside focus groups and surveys.” Or May, when she told people in a private meeting that the proposal was too far down the road for significant changes.”