In December of 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law – effectively replacing No Child Left Behind.

ESSA gives more power to states to set their own educational policy goals. Sometime this year, North Carolina will have to submit an accountability plan to the US Department of Education for approval.

What should North Carolina seek to achieve in its K-12 schools? That’s a question policymakers will have to answer this year.

One national organization, the (conservative) Thomas B. Fordham Institute, is encouraging states to focus more heavily on high achievers. That’s in contrast to No Child Left Behind: researchers say NCLB incentivized schools to focus exclusively on getting low achievers up to a certain proficiency level.

In a new report, “High Stakes for High Achievers,” Fordham Institute analysts are calling for three reforms. First, states should measure not just “proficiency,” but levels of proficiency – distinguishing between “basic,” “proficient,” and “advanced” learning. Second, schools should receive credit for the percentage of students who succeed in AP classes, IB classes, or college dual-enrollment courses.

Finally, the report says schools should measure academic growth as well as mere achievement and reward both equally. “Under North Carolina’s current system, achievement counts for 80 percent of a high school’s summative rating, while growth for all students counts for just 20 percent,” says Fordham editorial director Brandon Wright. “Growth measures do a better job of capturing schools’ effect on student achievement than proficiency rates, which are strongly correlated with student demographics, family circumstance, and prior achievement.”

Brandon Wright spoke with Aaron Keck on WCHL.


Regardless of whether the state adopts these standards, the issue will be a significant one at the General Assembly this year.

Learn more about the Every Student Succeeds Act here.

Read the full Fordham Institute report here.