NC Proficiency Standards Among Tops in US, Teacher Pay & School Funding Different Story

Published Thursday, January 21, 2016 at 2:24 pm

Editor’s Note: This article was published in Watauga County Schools winter edition of its newsletter, The Learning Leader, which can be viewed in its entirety here.

North Carolina’s proficiency standards on the state end-of-grade tests are among the most challenging in the nation and are comparable to the stringent standards of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), often referred to as the Nation’s Report Card.

NAEP analyzed proficiency standards for all state tests and found that only Massachusetts. Wisconsin and New York have 4th grade reading standards higher than North Carolina’s.

Only New York, Massachusetts, and Texas have 4th grade math standards higher than NC.

For 8th grade proficiency, only two states (Wisconsin and New York) have more demanding reading standards, and only one (New York) has higher mathematics standards.

Although federal law requires that every state conduct annual student testing in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 plus additional testing in high school, there are no national standards for proficiency on these tests. As a result, what counts as proficiency varies widely and test results are not comparable across states. The NAEP is the only measure that provides test data that can be compared between states and its testing is limited to students in grades 4, 8, and 12. Because of its limited sample size, NAEP results cannot be compared at the district level.

According to the NAEP analysis, North Carolina’s reading standards equate to the Basic level on the NAEP scale and NC mathematics standards equate to the Proficient level.

“North Carolina has set high expectations for our students,” said State Superintendent June Atkinson. “The challenge we face is to ensure that our schools are equipped and staffed to help students reach these high standards.”

On that score, national data shows that our state has a lot of ground to cover.

Despite a significant pay raise for most teachers last year (about 5.5% on average), teacher salaries in NC continue to lag well behind the national average. For 2014-15, NC ranked 42nd among the 50 states in average teacher salary. Over the last 10 years, NC is dead last in the rate of increase in teacher pay.

The state also fares badly in a national comparison of per pupil funding for public education, ranking 46th.

Nearly everyone says they favor a stronger system of public education and higher teacher salaries, but that’s not always reflected in the final decisions about the state budget.

Like the nation as a whole, NC’s economy has come a long way since the depths of the Great Recession, and state revenues have recovered as well. Educators and education supporters across the state hope that next year will bring substantial progress in helping improve salaries for teachers and other school personnel. Whether that happens will be determined in the legislative session that begins in April.

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