At the Schoohouse Door - The Excellent Public Schools Act

September 5, 2012

New Legislation Creates Challenges, Concerns for NC Schools

As you may know, the NC General Assembly passed a sweeping educational reform act during the short legislative session.

The Excellent Public Schools Act was included in the budget bill and set forth several changes to the way North Carolina students and schools are evaluated. Even though North Carolina's graduation rates and National Association of Education Progress (NAEP) scores have eclipsed the national averages, this reform act was based on the myth that public schools are failing.

This act is modeled on Florida law, even though North Carolina leads Florida on seven of eight of the NAEP standards, which are the best way to compare states with each other. While the changes proposed in the act should have been discussed and vetted in a longer legislative session and not tied to the state budget, North Carolina’s public schools, students and parents must live with the law.

The act is designed to improve literacy for students in kindergarten through third grade but has many other consequences. Here are some of the changes that may have the most impact.

Student Retention
With a few exemptions, the law implements a mandatory third-grade retention policy. If students do not demonstrate proficiency on the third-grade reading exam, they will be retained in the third grade unless they meet one of several exemptions. This could lead to almost half of third graders being retained on the basis of one test score. North Carolina has tried to eliminate social promotion before, but it did not work. As is generally the case, increased retention rates led to increases in the number of students who drop out.

Grading Schools
Public schools and local education authorities (school districts) will be graded on an A through F scale solely on the basis of test scores with no measure accounting for growth. The danger in this is that once a school receives a poor grade, it is likely to remain low because there will be a self-fulfilling prophecy, even if the school is improving students’ education.

Portfolio Review
This measure has the potential for positive results. If a student does not perform well or fails the end of grade test, there is an option for the student and teacher to create a portfolio of the student’s work completed over the year. The superintendent may review that portfolio and decide whether to promote the student. This is far preferable to the high-stakes testing that has controlled the promotion process for too long.

Personal Education Plan (PEP)
Every student at risk of failure in North Carolina is supposed to have a customized Personal Education Plan, which outlines additional resources and interventions the school will provide the student to ensure his or her success. The Excellent Public Schools Act requires schools to identify students in danger of failing in kindergarten rather than fourth grade, as written in the law originally.

The PEP statute was also changed in another law passed in the short session. Senate Bill 724/S.L. 2012-77 changes the PEP law by requiring local boards of education to create transition teams and plans for at-risk students. These teams will help students become successful in their promotions from elementary school to middle school and middle school to high school. This law also states that if a report card contains all of the information that should be in a PEP then the school is not mandated further to create a PEP.

For more information about the Personal Education Plan please visit North Carolina Central Law School’s comprehensive guide to the PEP.

The Education and Law Project will monitor the implementation of the Excellent Public Schools Act as well as other education issues in the state.

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