North Carolina At Risk for Non-Compliance with Key Federal Requirement

Every year, North Carolina rates each public school in the state on an A-F grading scale. To calculate those grades, the state uses the schools’ achievement and growth data. The state does not take into account how subgroups of students are doing – by race/ethnicity, income, or English-language learner status, for example. Instead, the state uses the schools’ average scores to calculate their A-F grades.

Focusing on averages masks the fact that some subgroups of students, who are not achieving their potential, are not being adequately served by our systems. Using only averages also puts North Carolina at risk of being out of compliance with ESSA requirements.

One of the goals of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is to ensure that states provide all children with equal access to a high-quality education. The act does so, in part, by requiring states to hold schools accountable for subgroups of students’ outcomes. Despite this requirement, many states’ plans, including North Carolina’s, do not consider the achievement of subgroups when calculating school ratings – A-F grades, in our state.

A recent state-by-state look at ESSA plans by the Alliance for Excellent Education (“the Alliance”) gave North Carolina a “red light” for not taking into account student subgroup achievement. The state also received a “yellow light” for its definition of a “consistently underperforming” school. That definition is used to identify which schools will receive targeted state support. The Alliance would like to see a more precise definition than the one North Carolina uses. Under North Carolina’s definition, to be considered “consistently underperforming,” a subgroup at a school would need to receive an “F” on all indicators in the state rating system for two consecutive years. Other states have written “consistently underperforming” definitions that are more nuanced. For example, a subgroup might be considered “consistently underperforming” if it received a failing grade on any of the indicators in the state rating system.

The Pathways to Grade-Level Reading initiative focuses on improving third grade reading proficiency and child and family well-being in North Carolina. The initiative takes a racial equity lens to its work, starting with disaggregating data and reporting disaggregated data for the factors that impact third grade reading proficiency. By disaggregating data and making decisions based on that information, we can begin building systems that work for every child, including those who have faced the highest structural barriers to opportunity.

The racial equity lens guides Pathways to recommend dedicating more and different resources to support children and families of color and creating systems that work for all. Leading with racial equity means prioritizing strategies that specifically work to improve outcomes for children of color and giving special consideration to the wisdom and innovation of people of color to develop responses that are lasting and reach all children. Targeted interventions that account for structural racism benefit all children. Pathways also aims to reduce disparities in children’s outcomes based on income, ability, language of origin, geography, gender and age.

Pathways is an initiative of the NC Early Childhood Foundation in collaboration with NC Child, The North Carolina Partnership for Children, Inc., and BEST NC.