The Performance-Based Accountability Program was approved in the 1992 Legislative session to ensure involvement by parents, teachers, and others who are close to students. In an effort to improve student performance, the program mandated individual school building-level plans and required that school systems meet the performance indicators set by the State Board of Education. The program required building-level committees and an advisory panel to the local board of education. At least half of the members of the system panel had to be practicing teachers. The program required the State Board of Education to approve student performance indicators and guidelines for developing local school improvement plans, to consider waivers submitted by school systems, and to develop a system of school building improvement reports for each school.
The 1995 General Assembly recognized the need for North Carolina public schools to make additional progress in student achievement. The General Assembly asked the State Board of Education to recommend changes that would make the state's education system more responsive to the needs of the 21st century.
In response to Senate Bill 16, ratified by the General Assembly in March 1995, the State Board of Education developed the ABCs of Public Education. The law directed the State Board of Education "to examine the structure and function of the State public school system with a view to improving student performance, increasing local flexibility and control, and promoting economy and efficiency…". In addition the General Assembly directed the Board to examine the structure, functions and organization of the Department of Public Instruction and to propose a plan for reducing, eliminating and/or reorganizing DPI. The results of an intensive ten week study yielded an accountability proposal called the ABCs of Public Education. The proposal provided a framework for strong Accountability with an emphasis on high educational standards, teaching the Basics, and maximum local Control. It was designed to increase student achievement without giving local schools a new complicated reform program to follow. With renewed emphasis on reading, writing, and mathematics; incentive funding for staff at schools achieving high growth; and achievement measured school-by-school; all students in North Carolina are measured, and no school can be overlooked. Student achievement is measured through state tests. Elementary and middle grades use the end-of-grade tests in reading, writing (grades 4 and 7), and mathematics, while the high school model consists of the end-of-course tests, the high school writing test, and a comprehensive test in reading and mathematics. The State Board expressed its commitment to school-based decision making and local control whenever possible, yet recognized the state's primary role in ensuring accountability. In addition, in response to the legislative mandate, the plan recommended that the Department of Public Instruction be reorganized, that the department's staff be reduced from 788 positions to 485, that responsibility and funding for the eight Technical Assistance Centers across the state be transferred to local school systems and that an accountability program that focused on performance of the 1,969 public schools be adopted and include a system of rewards and consequences. This plan was subsequently approved by the General Assembly.
In the 1996-1997 school year, the ABCs implementation began in schools with grades K-8 and the first ABCs Accountability Report focusing on school performance was submitted to the State Board of Education. Assistance teams were formed and assigned to the low-performing schools, and eligible personnel in all schools that achieved exemplary growth standards received incentive awards. The high school accountability model was implemented in the 1997-1998 school year, and the results for all schools under the ABCs program were reported in A Report Card for the ABCs of Public Education, Volume I. Nearly every meeting of the State Board since 1996 has included one or more discussions about accountability issues and has resulted in numerous changes in the original model to address input by the state's superintendents, principals and teachers. The Board has considered the model "a work in progress" and it continues to refine and improve the operation of the ABCs program under the general priorities of high student performance; safe, orderly, and caring schools; quality teachers, administrators, and staff; effective and efficient operations; and strong family, business, and community support.
State Assistance Teams
One of the major strengths of the ABCs of Public Education is the assistance that is offered schools that are designated low-performing by the State Board of Education. Working with the Division of School Improvement, the State Board of Education assigns assistance teams to work full time in low performing schools to improve student achievement and to build capacity of the staff in the schools for continuous improvement. State law (GS 115C 105.38) requires assistance teams to conduct needs assessment of all facets of the school, to evaluate teachers and administrators, and to collaborate with the school's faculty and staff in revising and assisting in the implementation of the school improvement plan. In addition, teams are to make recommendations for continuous improvement, to review the school's progress and to make appropriate reports to the superintendent, local board of education, and the State Board of Education on the school's progress.
Student Accountability Standards
On Jan. 27, 1999, the State Board of Education considered recommendations of the NC Committee on Standards and Accountability, a committee created by the General Assembly, to advise the Board on student performance standards. This committee had been directed to consider the earlier recommendations of the Education Standards and Accountability Commission on "high and clearly defined education standards for the public schools of North Carolina" and to address the requirements of GS 115C-12 that the State Board of Education develop student proficiency benchmarks for the knowledge and skills necessary to enter the workforce. The recommendations brought forth in the Committee's proposal aligned statewide student accountability standards, or gateways, to school performance under the ABCs. The recommendations reflected extensive input from a wide variety of stakeholders, expert reviewers and the public in general. After eleven drafts of the proposal were debated, the Board approved the standards in April of 1999. The goal of the standards in elementary and middle school is to identify students who need help and to provide early and ongoing assistance to ensure that those students have the reading, mathematics and writing skills they need for participating in and benefiting from the high school curriculum. The policy sets minimum standards at grades three, five and eight because each is considered a "gateway" to the next level of learning. The gateway from grade five to grade six was implemented in 2000-2001, and the gateway from grade three to grade four and from grade eight to grade nine will be implemented in 2001-2002. These gateways require that a student meet local promotion standards as well as achieve test scores at Level III or above on end-of-grade tests in both reading and mathematics. The final gateway, a passing score on an Exit Exam of Essential Skills, will go into effect with the graduating class of 2005. The test will first be administered to students in the spring of their eleventh grade year. The students who do not meet these standards in grades three, five, eight and eleven will have retest and focused intervention opportunities. In elementary and middle school, an appeals process is a component of the policy with the principal responsible for making final promotion decisions. However, in order to graduate from high school a student must pass the Exit Exam. Individual Education Program students who are pursuing an occupational diploma are exempt from this requirement.