School accountability comes in two forms. Either parents keep schools accountable by "voting with their feet" or states compel public school districts to administer standardized tests. Simply put, as educational options increase, the value and necessity of testing decreases. Likewise, as long as states such as North Carolina maintain stringent limitations on parental choice, test scores remain their primary method of keeping schools accountable for results.
- State SAT scores have been on the rise. Although the state still trails the national average, North Carolina's total SAT score soared from an average score of 988 in 2000 to an average of 1001 in 2011. This surge is almost entirely the result of higher math achievement.
- On the rigorous National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) math tests, North Carolina's fourth- and eighth-grade students have had higher average scale scores than the national average since 2000. The state's reading scores have remained at or below the national average since 2005.
- Between 2005 and 2011, North Carolina's graduation rate increased by 9.6 percentage points. The causes of the increase are not known. One trouble sign is that the rate of incoming community college students who require remediation rose at roughly the same time, suggesting that schools may be increasingly likely to graduate students regardless of their performance.
- In September 2010, Achieve Inc. released results from the third annual American Diploma Project (ADP) Algebra II end-of-course exam. Nearly 2,100 high school students in North Carolina took the "no stakes" test. ADP found that only around 19 percent of the state's students were prepared for college-level mathematics. This finding was in stark contrast to North Carolina's 2009-2010 end-of-course Algebra II test, which concluded that 85 percent of students had "proficient" or "advanced" knowledge of the subject. The state will no longer administer either assessment effective with the 2011-12 school year.
- The math and reading performance of North Carolina's general school population hovers around the international average. Using statistical techniques that "link" results from two different tests, researchers found that approximately two-thirds of North Carolina students would not meet international proficiency standards in math and reading. The state's performance would place North Carolina in the company of Poland and the United Kingdom and far behind the highest performing nations. Even more troubling, few of our students would reach the "advanced" level of performance. Only 8 percent of North Carolina students performed well enough to achieve this distinction, which is comparable to nations such as the Czech Republic and Hungary.
- The state should augment educational options for all families, thereby curtailing dependence on standardized tests and other measures of student achievement.
- The N.C. Department of Public Instruction should sponsor a comprehensive study that attempts to discover the causes of the state's dramatic increase in math achievement and relative stagnation of reading scores over the last decade. Researchers should conduct a similar study to determine why the state's graduation rate has been on the rise.
- Test scores and other outcome measures should be used to create a simple A-to-F performance grading system for all North Carolina public schools. Current classifications of student performance are confusing to parents and the public.
Analyst: Dr. Terry Stoops
Director of Education Studies
919-828-3876 • email@example.com