Hundreds, if not thousands, of bright, low-income North Carolina students will now get access to advanced math courses that were denied to them in the past by their school systems.
The state House voted 93-12 on Thursday to back a bill that requires traditional public schools to place in advanced math classes any students who scored a Level 5 — the highest level on state end-of-grade or end-of-course math exams. The bill, which was unanimously approved Wednesday by the Senate, goes to Gov. Roy Cooper for his approval.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers have credited the bill to the 2017 News & Observer and Charlotte Observer "Counted Out" series that showed that thousands of bright, low-income students were being excluded from advanced classes.
"As we learned from a series of newspaper articles, there were a number of low-income children that were left out of the opportunity to take advanced math classes, and this bill remedies that," Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Raleigh Democrat, said before Wednesday's vote.
"Counted Out" showed that as bright children from low-income families start fourth grade, they are much more likely to be excluded from the more rigorous classes than their peers from families with higher incomes.
The unequal treatment during the six years ending in 2015 resulted in 9,000 low-income children in North Carolina being kept out of classes that could have opened a new academic world to them.
These high-potential, low-income students are less likely to take high school math in middle school, an important step toward the type of transcript that will open college doors. Only 1 of every 2 low-income third-graders who scored above grade level in 2010 took high school math in middle school, compared with 3 of 4 more-affluent students with the same scores.
Under the bill, students who score a Level 5 on state math tests would be enrolled the following school year in the advanced course for their next math class. For seventh-grade students who scored a Level 5, they'd be placed in a high school-level math course for eighth grade.
The bill says no student would be excluded from taking the advanced math course unless the child's parent or guardian provides written consent.
Charter schools are exempt from the bill's requirements.
Despite their support for most of the bill, some House Democrats urged their colleagues to vote no because the Senate made changes Wednesday, such as allowing the Rowan-Salisbury school district to not follow the state's teacher salary schedule.
Other parts of House Bill 986 include:
▪ Directing State Schools Superintendent Mark Johnson to make recommendations to legislators by Jan. 15, 2019 on ways to reduce testing that's not required by state or federal law.
▪ Requiring more detailed annual reporting on how school districts are teaching cursive handwriting and multiplication tables.
▪ Allowing the entire Rowan-Salisbury school system to have charter-school like flexibility.
▪ Requiring the state Department of Public Instruction under Johnson to develop a mental health training program and a suicide risk referral program At the same time, the State Board of Education would be required to repeal its school-based mental health initiative policy.