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State Board of Education: Aug. 5 and 6

A presentation to the State Board of Education Wednesday highlighted the success of a program to turn around low performing schools. But presenter Gary Henry from Vanderbilt University cautioned that success cannot be sustained without continued state help. 

“These schools need particular attention, and they need a different set of rules in some cases to play by,” Henry said. 

The program is called TALAS, Turning Around the Lowest Achieving Schools in North Carolina, and it focused on a mix of 118 of the lowest performing elementary, middle, and high schools. 

Fully implemented in the 2011-12 school year through 2014-15, the program achieved impressive results, Henry said. 

He said that current estimates show that for 2014, 2,156 students are proficient who wouldn’t have been without the program. 

Henry, who’s from Tennessee, called the program one of the most ambitious in the country. He noted that in his state, a similar program identified 86 troubled schools but only intervened in about 40 percent of them. In contrast, North Carolina officials intervened in all 118 identified schools. 

“The scale here…is unique,” he said. 

Sixty percent of the TALAS schools outperformed the state average change in proficiency rates, and 75 percent outperformed state average growth in graduation rates. 

The impact on achievement was similarly impressive, Henry said. The improvement was just under what would be achieved with a “massive and expansive class size reduction,” he said. 

Board member A.L. Collins asked what these schools did differently than other low-performing schools, noting that the board, “spent an awful lot of money on turnarounds and we can’t do that again.”  The state used Race to the Top funding, which dries up this month, for TALAS. 

The model for the turnaround program includes putting coaches in individual schools. The program also placed in some areas district coaches that helped shape the behavior of district officials. Those schools that had individual coaches as well as coaches at their district level did particularly well. Henry said maintaining a district coaching presence could be a cost-effective way of maintaining the gains. 

“I think a viable option moving forward is to continue district coaching, but perhaps put them on a circuit so they spend time at each of the districts,” he said. 

Henry also presented on Thursday, discussing the distribution of teachers across the state. He began by noting that an effective teacher is one of the biggest predictors for student success. 

A student who has a teacher rated in the previous year as having exceeded growth expectations equates to the equivalent of between 45 and 60 additional days of school for that student, he said.

He then went on to look at which students get access to these high achieving teachers. 

“There is a very strong relationship that if you’re in a high poverty school, you’re very unlikely to have one of those high performing teachers,” he said. He added later, “High achieving schools, as you might expect, the students have much higher access to high performing teachers.” 

His presentation was an examination of Race to the Top and how it impacted equitable access to good teachers. He said that RttT funding helped narrow the gap, increasing access to high performing teachers in high poverty schools.

Professional Development

Verna Lalbeharie, Director of the Digital Teaching and Learning Division at DPI, discussed the state’s digital efforts, talking at length about some of the online professional development options available. The presentation raised questions from board members about professional development generally. 

Lalbeharie’s division is able to reach more than 1,800 teachers and 400 administrators across the state with online tools. While that is a good start, board member Collins said that a wider reach is needed. 

“For our digital learning plan to work, it is crucial that we have professional development to all the teachers who are out there,” he said.

Race to the Top funds provided for a great deal of the state’s professional development to teachers, but with those funds drying up this month, the state is left with a hole. 

“It is still a major issue for us to have sufficient dollars to provide the professional development in a meaningful way to all of our school districts,” Superintendent June Atkinson said. 

Charter Schools

On Wednesday, the board also took up the proposals of four new charter schools. They came before the board previously but were referred back to the Charter School Advisory Board because of various concerns. 

Two of the schools, Cape Fear Preparatory Academy and Pine Springs Preparatory Academy, were kicked back to the advisory board because of “serious charges and allegations” leveled at their management organization: Newpoint Education Partners.

Since then, the two schools ended their relationship with Newpoint, and the Advisory Board recommended approval of their charters. On Thursday, both were approved by the State Board. 

Another school, Unity Classical, was sent back to the Advisory Board because of concerns about its finances. Upon a further review of the financial information and a presentation to the Advisory Board, Unity Classical was recommended for approval. On Thursday, the State Board concurred. 

The final school, Capital City Charter School, pulled its application and is no longer under consideration. 

The Board also received a brief update on the status of the state’s two virtual charter schools, N.C. Virtual Academy and N.C. Connections Academy. Both are on track to open this fall. 

Connection Academy currently has 1,002 schools enrolled, and Virtual Academy has 1,391. They are both aiming for 1,500 students. 

Charter School Performance

A presentation of the state’s Charter Schools Performance Framework, which measures the efficacy of Charter schools, revealed some statistics Wednesday about the success of charter schools across the state. 

When looking at grade level proficiency, 62 percent of charter schools are in the top 50 percent of all public schools in North Carolina. Twenty three percent are in the bottom 25 percent. 

When it comes to finances, about 10 percent of charter schools (16 schools) are in financial noncompliance, which is a sign of financial insolvency, according to Deanna Townsend-Smith, Lead Education Consultant in the Office of Charter Schools.

Testing Changes

The Board also heard an update on efforts this coming school year to implement a proof-of-concept study of changes to testing in the state. 

The testing plan, if ultimately implemented would scrap end-of-grade tests in grades 3-8 and replace them with three or four interim assessments throughout the year, one of which would take place at the end of the year. This new testing paradigm would replace the current end-of-grade testing process.

The study is taking place in 5th and 6th grades. Forty five schools and 4,021 students have been selected for the 5th grade Math assessments, and 35 schools and 4,859 students have been selected for the 6th grade English/Language Arts-Reading assessments. 

For the study period, the first interim assessment will be during the month of October, the second between December 8 and January 22, and the third between March 3 and 31.

Districts can choose on which days they want to conduct the tests within the respective windows provided by the state. The tests don’t have to be given to all students on the same day, but they have to take place in the same week. 

See the agenda for August 5 Board of Education meeting here

See the agenda for August 6 Board of Education meeting here.

Alex Granados

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