NC RECEIVES HIGH SCORES FOR IMPROVING TEACHER QUALITY AND FOR STANDARDS AND ACCOUNTABILITY FOR SECOND CONSECUTIVE YEAR
North Carolina received the highest score of any state for Improving Teacher Quality, according to Education Week's fifth annual 50-state report card on public education. A letter grade of B+ was the highest grade given to any state in this category, and only four states earned Bs of any type on the measure of Improving Teacher Quality.
North Carolina also earned a B+ on Standards and Accountability, a score that puts the state in a tie for fifth place in the nation. Standards and Accountability is a category that has earned the state high marks from Education Week in previous years.
The 194-page report, A Better Balance: Standards, Tests and the Tools to Succeed, Quality Counts 2001 focuses this year on the search for stability and balance between standards for instruction, tests and support for students and teachers. The report notes that North Carolina is facing challenges to continue its accountability model and to refine the plan in response to criticism and changing conditions.
In addition to the specific focus for this year's report, Quality Counts continues its tradition of awarding letter grades to states in four categories: Standards and Accountability, Improving Teacher Quality, School Climate, and Resources. Education Week is considered the national paper of record on education issues.
School climate continued to be the category with the lowest scores for all states. North Carolina received a D- in the school climate category. Connecticut was the only state to earn anything higher than a C, with a B- grade. Half the states earned a D or F grade in this category, and 14 did not receive a grade because they did not participate in data collection in this category. Several factors are considered in determining this score including class size, surveys of eighth graders, and the availability of open enrollment programs.
In the area of Resources, two grades were awarded for each state. North Carolina received a C- for the Adequacy of Resources, based in part on education spending per student. West Virginia is in the top spot and earned an A in this category with spending totaling $8,322. North Carolina's reported spending per student in 1999 was $5,934. In terms of the Equity of Resources, North Carolina earned a C.
Quality Counts also lists each state's performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress' (NAEP) tests in reading, mathematics, writing and science. For the most part, North Carolina's students score near or slightly above the national average on these rigorous assessments. The NAEP is the only assessment that provides equitable comparison information among states, however all states do not participate in the program.
Education Week reviewed a variety of measures for this report, including state standards for schools and students, components of accountability models, student achievement results, financial data, results of teacher and student surveys, and other material.
State Board of Education Chairman Phillip J. Kirk Jr. said that he was pleased for North Carolina to be recognized once again for its leadership in the area of Standards and Accountability, but especially in its efforts in Improving Teacher Quality. "In a time of teacher shortages in many regions and subjects, North Carolina has insisted on measures to improve the quality of teachers. We have increased standards for teachers and we have increased their compensation and professionalism. I believe North Carolina should be proud of its efforts to recruit and keep the best teachers possible in each classroom in the state."
State Superintendent Mike Ward noted that the report was very thorough in its assessment of the challenges that face states in the area of accountability. "Everyone is in favor of accountability for public schools. Our challenge is to constantly look at North Carolina's accountability model to be sure that it measures what we want to measure, that it is fair to students and schools and that the curriculum continues to be the main focus of activity in the classroom. We are constantly seeking the balance that Education Week described so well, and our score shows that we are being successful in this area."
Both Kirk and Ward noted that North Carolina school districts were working hard to improve school climate, but that some issues, such as class size, are difficult to address without additional resources.
North Carolina has been focused on school improvement for more than a decade. The ABCs of Public Education, developed in 1995, has been credited with improving student proficiency. It is the first school-by-school accountability program in the state. This year, new Student Accountability Standards go into effect for fifth graders, with third and eighth graders to be affected for the first time next year. High school students will be affected by the new standards when the new exit exam takes effect. The new standards require students to demonstrate grade- level proficiency on end-of-grade tests in order to be automatically considered for promotion to the next grade.
There are a number of factors contributing to North Carolina's relatively high marks in Improving Teacher Quality.
The Excellent Schools Act (ESA) has boosted teacher professionalism through better compensation and preparation. North Carolina has been working to move average teacher salaries to the national average. North Carolina's average teacher pay was $39,404 for 1999-2000.
In addition, the ESA provided 12 percent pay increases for teachers who receive National Board of Professional Teaching Standards certification. Also, teachers earning the master's degree/advanced competencies' license receive a 10 percent increase. North Carolina accounts for more than one-fourth of the nation's National Board Certified teachers - 2,389.
Beginning teacher salaries have improved in the past few years to $25,000 for teachers with a bachelor's degree only. Support for teachers has increased and improved. Beginning teachers now have paid mentors for two years and can be paid for three additional days for orientation. The State Board has set criteria for optimum working conditions for beginning teachers. These include minimal non-instructional duties, limited numbers of exceptional children and limited class preparations. Beginning teachers, as well as those with more than 27 years of experience, cannot be assigned extracurricular activities unless they request them or the local board requires it.
The Initial Licensure Program has strengthened the process and standards for new teachers entering the profession. During this three-year program, beginning teachers are observed at least three times annually by the school principal and at least once annually by a teacher. The state also is implementing a Performance-Based Licensure process that requires beginning teachers to prepare a product (portfolio) demonstrating that they meet the standards for beginning teachers set by the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium, a project of the Chief State School Officers.
NC TEACH is North Carolina's statewide lateral entry teacher licensure program for talented professionals from diverse fields who wish to make a career change into the field of teaching. NC TEACH provides an accelerated one-year program for completing licensure requirements.
The efforts, outlined above, are representative of the activities underway in North Carolina to improve all elements of public school performance. For more information, please contact the Department of Public Instruction Communications Division at 919.807.3450.
About the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction:
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provides leadership to 115 local public school districts and 126 charter schools serving over 1.5 million students in kindergarten through high school graduation. The agency is responsible for all aspects of the state's public school system and works under the direction of the North Carolina State Board of Education.
For more information:
NCDPI Communication and Information Division, 919.807.3450.