North Carolina’s business community knows that solving our workforce challenges demands solutions at every stage of the talent pipeline, even as far back as early childhood education and pre-K. Preparing today’s students for the competitive workforce of tomorrow is a key focus for the NC Chamber, which is why we have a consistent history working on three interconnected policy areas: academic standards, testing and school accountability. This legislative session, we’ve continued working on these issues and have a number of updates to share:
Today’s graduating students are facing a competitive job market unlike any other. To secure a good-paying job, they need fundamental knowledge, flexibility, problem-solving skills and much more. Parents, employers and lawmakers know that we must do everything in our power to equip our students with the tools they need to succeed.
For us, a key piece of that process is protecting the high academic standards in our classrooms. That’s why the NC Chamber Foundation started the Hire Standards coalition in 2014, a group of more than 80 organizations representing the voices of business leaders and local chambers of commerce. Joined in solidarity with parents, teachers and other stakeholders, the coalition has worked for years to preserve the high quality of our standards so all students have the chance to succeed in K-12 and beyond.
Last year, the NC Chamber team worked with the State Board of Education on a new academic standards review process that incorporated more stakeholder feedback and set clear metrics for success. The new process was a result of the Chamber’s multi-year effort to protect and strengthen standards.
The State Board and the Department of Public Instruction are currently utilizing the new process to examine fourth-level high school math standards. We applaud them for including needed stakeholder input throughout their review. The State Board is expected to take action on draft standards in August.
Finally, our advocacy team has been standing firm against House Bill 711: Excellent Educational Standards. This bill would eliminate the state’s rigorous math standards in low-performing school districts and substitute them with an older set of academic standards. It would take North Carolina backward on standards and would harm the process for reviewing and revising standards in the future. The NC Chamber opposes any effort to allow schools or districts to opt out of standards or utilize a different set of standards. As the legislative session draws to a close, we are optimistic as this bill has not had a committee hearing or been moved.
Hand-in-hand with high academic standards are the tests that measure students’ progress throughout their education. North Carolina’s testing programs are a critical benchmark for ensuring that our talent pipeline is adequately preparing students for the workforce of the future. However, business leaders know that there are plenty of areas for examination and improvement when it comes to our current standardized tests, which is why we have been working on this issue with the state’s education leaders for years (for more background, read these updates from 2014 and 2015).
This year, we’ve been monitoring two bills as they move through the General Assembly: House Bill 377 and Senate Bill 621. As recent reporting notes, these bills are both attempts to reduce the number of tests facing North Carolina students. While we do not have a position on either of these bills, we agree that any solutions should balance the amount of time spent testing with the benefits gained. One proposal would eliminate End of Grade (EOG) tests and replace them with multiple tests throughout the year. We urge legislators to more closely examine the Department’s ability to gather needed data from this new testing structure. In addition, replacing EOGs with multiple benchmarks could increase testing in some cases.
As Senate Bill 621 continues to move forward through the legislative process, we are encouraging legislators and stakeholders to continue having collaborative discussions as any changes to testing programs are implemented. We should be thoughtful about this issue and ensure that solutions are well-researched and have broad support. To that end, it was announced today that the U.S. Department of Education has approved North Carolina to participate in a pilot program that will examine new ways to assess student achievement. We look forward to sharing more information on this announcement soon.
Annually, each public school in North Carolina is graded for performance on an A through F scale, also known as the 15-point grading scale. Along with effective testing programs, measuring school performance in this way is a critical factor in improving education and turning around low-performing schools. The business community has long advocated for a robust, transparent and clear school grading process – which is why we now support House Bill 362: 15-Point Scale for School Performance Grades. By making the current 15-point scale permanent and directing further study on the issues that affect school grades, this legislation is the right approach to take on this complex issue. This legislation has been passed by the legislature and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.
There are countless other policies that impact your ability to attract and retain talent, including efforts to expand access to NC’s high-quality pre-K program and legislation that would restore funding parity to community colleges for workforce training courses. You can read more about progress during this legislative session in our 6-Month Jobs Agenda Update or you can contact Andrew Meehan with any questions.
Gary J. Salamido
Chief Operating Officer and Acting President