About Those “Low” Average ACT Scores Here in North Carolina

As reported yesterday’s News & Observer, NC’s ACT scores reside near the very bottom in the nation.


“New results released Wednesday from the Class of 2018 show that North Carolina’s average score remained at 19.1 out of a possible 36. The state was below the national average of 20.8 and tied for 46th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.”

There are lots of reasons why NC’s averages are that low compared to the rest of the nation – most of which are related to how North Carolina’s policy makers have altered the terrain of public education system.

When a report like this comes out and displays some “shocking” numbers, it becomes fuel for many who wish to offer interpretations to sway public sentiment. It’s an election year for goodness sake.

A big election year.

That is why the following quote does not sit well with this public school teacher. Why? Because it’s wrong and blatant misrepresentation of what is actually happening. Because it’s nothing more than shilling for a partisan ideology that here in North Carolina has been pushing for privatization.

“This is just the most recent example of the disconnect between inputs and outcomes,” said Terry Stoops, vice president of research and director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation. “Despite substantial increases in teacher compensation over the last five years, there have been no meaningful improvements in overall student performance on ACT tests.”

That’s the first quote in a piece by the Carolina Journal on the ACT score report – ACT scores show national downward trend as N.C. remains below average.

It’s as if he said, “Well look at all of the money we have spent raising teachers’ pay and what do we have to show for it? These pathetic below-average ACT scores.”

When NC still lags behind the national average in teacher pay by %16 after it removed longevity pay and graduate degree pay bumps, using the term “substantial raises” is really empty electioneering.

It makes one want to have Stoops explain the following table compiled by John deVille, NC public school activist and teacher veteran who has chronicled the various changes in educational policy for years. He tracked the recent teacher pay “increases” and used DATA-DRIVEN logic to show something rather interesting.


What deVille did was to compare salaries as proposed from the recent budget to the 2008-2009 budget that was in place right before the Great Recession hit, the same financial catastrophe that most every GOP stalwart seems to forget happened ten years ago. Adjusting the 2008-2009 salary schedule with an inflation index from the Bureau of Labor, the third column shows what those 2008-2009 salaries would be like now. Most steps see a shortfall. Add to that the loss of longevity pay that was used to help finance these “historic raises” and the amount of money lost by teachers over these past ten years becomes rather eye-opening.

But Stoops calls those “substantial raises.”

Furthermore, North Carolina is only one of seventeen states that makes all students in NC public schools take the ACT. As related in the aforementioned News & Observer article:

“One reason for North Carolina’s low national ranking is that it’s one of only 17 states that requires all its high school students to take the ACT. Scores are much higher in states where the standardized exam is not mandatory and might only be taken by students who intend to go to college.”

But NC is still near the bottom of that seventeen state cohort.

Stoops offers some other possible reasons, but there requires so much more honest reflection on the part of the policy makers whom Stoops and the John Locke Foundation support would want to perform to make a difference. It would mean that the “reforms” that Stoops and others like him would be exposed as pure privatization efforts of public education.

“There are many possible explanations for our state’s inability to prepare a larger share of students for college-level work,” Stoops said. “Effects from changes in student demographics should not be discounted. Instructional practices that followed the statewide adoption of Common Core English and math standards and revised state science standards likely play a role.”

Besides, those thoughts are given as an afterthought.

Maybe there are more direct and indirect reasons for these “dismal” scores because so much has been enacted to erode the landscape of public education. Possibly:

  • uneven salary increases
  • removal of due-process rights
  • no more graduate degree pay bumps
  • low per pupil expenditure rates on the national scale
  • a school grade performance system that literally only shows the effects of poverty
  • insipid bills like SB 599 and HB 514
  • allowing privatizing entities to enter NC and have influence on policy
  • merit pay and bonus pay schemes
  • lack of teacher input into educational “reforms”
  • removal of over 7500 teacher assistants
  • elimination (and the shadowed re-creation) of the Teacher Fellow Program
  • unregulated charter school growth
  • vouchers
  • a horrible principal pay plan
  • reliance on secret algorithms like those found in EVAAS to measure teacher effectiveness
  • class size chaos
  • horrible charter virtual schools
  • an unproven Innovative School District
  • attacks on educational advocacy groups
  • a revolving door of standardized tests
  • a revolving door of teacher evaluation protocols
  • lack of student services
  • lack of textbooks
  • and a state superintendent who seems more loyal to everybody except the public school system that he was elected to serve.

And that does not even begin to cover the effects of poverty. The ACT report refers to poverty specifically when it released the scores. Again, from the Carolina Journal article:

“The ACT report suggests a few ways to turn around the dismal scores, such as providing equitable resources for underserved students and providing educators with more resources.”

To which Stoops replied,

“Regardless of how we got here, it’s important for state education officials to explain to taxpayers why only 18 percent of North Carolina high-schoolers met all four college readiness benchmarks.”

Fully funding public schools, providing more wrap-around services, and giving teachers more of what they say they need to help students would make that comment by Stoops crumble.

And the officials who run state education? Does he mean Mark Johnson and the powers in the NCGA that enable him? Maybe they can proctor that day in which the ACT is given.

Voting for pro-public education candidates on November 6 (or earlier) would be more proactive.

Get to the polls!