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State superintendent speaks on importance of NCCAT oversight to lawmakers

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Update, Feb. 8, 3:30 p.m.: The bill passed the House 75-42.

A House education committee Tuesday gave favorable approval to a bill that would put the state superintendent in charge of the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT) and have the executive director of the organization report directly to her. 

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt appeared at the committee to explain why this change is important, saying that the organization currently has no accountability. It is overseen by a board of trustees, but she said they act in a mostly advisory capacity.

“It does not have the capacity to provide adequate oversight and leadership to the organization,” she said, adding later: “That lack of accountability at NCCAT means that it is an island unto itself.”

Brock Womble, the executive director of NCCAT, said in an interview that he has questions about the bill and is looking forward to more conversations about it.

“NCCAT has made great strides over the last seven years to support teachers and impact students. We have expert staff who provide excellent professional development to our residential, online, virtual, and school-based delivery model,” he told EdNC. “NCCAT supports North Carolina educators by providing professional development focused on improving teacher practice, going beyond information sharing to instead demonstrate, model, and coach teachers to change their practice… Additional resources would provide us with the opportunity to serve more teachers in increasingly meaningful and measurable ways.” 

At the committee meeting, Truitt said that the organization was created by lawmakers in 1985 in order to provide dedicated professional development to teachers around the state. It was originally overseen by the UNC Board of Governors but was transferred to the State Board of Education in 2009.

Truitt said she has been fielding questions for the past year about the organization, with people asking her how NCCAT could be used better, why it receives sporadic funding, and why it sometimes seems like it’s going to be on the chopping block from lawmakers.

At the moment, she said the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has virtually no association with NCCAT, and that for the most part, the organization doesn’t have professional development aligned with DPI or State Board of Education goals.

“DPI provides Human Resources support for NCCAT, and that is the only formal contact we have with NCCAT,” she said.

She said that under her leadership, NCCAT would become the professional development arm of DPI, and that DPI would eventually be asking lawmakers to ensure it is well-funded.

Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, a sponsor of the bill, said that NCCAT could be performing better.

“They are performing good, but not up to their full potential,” Torbett said.

Another part of the bill relates to efforts underway at DPI to change the way North Carolina holds schools accountable.

Currently, schools are graded using a formula that is 80% academic performance and 20% academic growth. Both of these measures are determined largely through test scores, and critics have argued for years that growth should be weighted higher in the formula.

DPI has been working on a new accountability model that emphasizes multiple measures of performance and moves away from reliance on test scores. The bill has Truitt presenting on this subject to lawmakers in April and DPI sending a report with recommendations on changing the accountability model to the General Assembly in February 2024.

The bill also includes language requiring DPI to contract with Gooru, Inc. for “up to three years” for the company’s software program Gooru Navigator. The contract is to help deal with the declines in student performance following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill says the navigator will help “to evaluate and improve student learning and performance and to provide students with an individualized roadmap for improving learning and performance.”

The contract is being done legislatively because the state hasn’t moved fast enough to approve a contract for learning loss software using funding already provided by the state, according to Torbett.

The bill goes next to the House rules committee.

The committee also heard a presentation from Jamey Falkenbury, director of government affairs for Truitt, on the state of computer science in North Carolina and efforts to bolster computer science education.

A bill that has been filed this session would make computer science a required course for high school graduation, rather than an elective. It’s part of an attempt to make computer science more attractive as a class for high school students, and came out of a committee that met in between legislative sessions examining how to get more women into STEM fields. It is likely to be heard in the House K-12 committee in the next few weeks.

You can see Falkenbury’s presentation below.

Editor’s Note: This article originally didn’t include the year that DPI has to report to the General Assembly with recommendations on changing the school accountability model. It has been updated to reflect that it is February 2024.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados was the senior reporter for EducationNC from December 2014-March 2023.