North Carolina Expands Access to Advanced Math Courses

More than 58,000 students qualified for enrollment in advanced math courses across grades 6-12 for the upcoming 2022-23 academic year, as stated by Department of Public Instruction (DPI) Deputy State Superintendent Dr. Michael Maher at a Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee (JLEOC) meeting on Tuesday.

The count of students eligible for advanced math courses surged over 18% compared to the previous year by 9,032 exam scores. Out of the eligible students, 94% are presently enrolled in advanced math courses, Maher confirmed.

According to Maher, the rise in both top-scoring students on math assessments and their placement in advanced math courses demonstrates significant growth in student participation.

Maher’s presentation was part of a broader discussion with lawmakers regarding advanced math courses and the significance of automatic enrollment policies that assign all qualifying students to advanced courses.

The legislation passed in 2018 by North Carolina lawmakers aimed to broaden the accessibility of advanced courses. DPI’s presentation highlighted the objective as ensuring access to advanced mathematics coursework for students showcasing readiness, irrespective of their demographic background.

Refer to the statute below to understand that eligible students are automatically enrolled in the subsequent advanced math course, except in cases where a parent or guardian opts out.

“When advanced courses are offered in mathematics, any student scoring a level five on the end-of-grade or end-of-course test for the mathematics course in which the student was most recently enrolled shall be enrolled in the advanced course for the next mathematics course in which the student is enrolled. A student in seventh grade scoring a level five on the seventh grade mathematics end-of-grade test shall be enrolled in a high school level mathematics course in eighth grade. No student who qualifies under this subsection shall be removed from the advanced or high school mathematics course in which the student is enrolled unless a parent or guardian of the student provides written consent for the student to be excluded or removed from that course.” – SESSION LAW 2018-32, Advanced courses in mathematics

As per Johns Hopkins University School of Education Associate Dean Dr. Jonathan Plucker, automatic enrollment policies significantly contribute to student success.

“Course placement can be fairly arbitrary and biased,” Plucker addressed lawmakers. “Parents shouldn’t have to have the social capital… and knowledge about how schools work to go in and fight for our children. It should be automatic. If you perform at a high level, you should be in advanced courses.”

North Carolina stands among just six states implementing automatic enrollment in advanced courses and stands out as the sole state actively gathering data to assess its effectiveness, as noted by Plucker.

Review the statistics related to participation in advanced math courses in North Carolina over the past three years.

Screenshot from DPI’s presentation on advanced math courses.

Enhanced accessibility and advanced courses

On a national scale, numerous high-achieving students are deprived of advanced learning opportunities despite their evident readiness for more challenging academics, per a joint analysis by The 74, collaborated by Plucker and Best NC President and CEO Brenda Berg.

“This is particularly conspicuous for Hispanic, Black, Native American, and low-income students, resulting in a perpetual underestimation of many of the nation’s brightest children. Consequently, these students are less likely to be adequately prepared for postsecondary education,” the analysis emphasizes. “One unequivocal and underutilized solution is automatic enrollment. Termed as mandatory or opt-out enrollment, the concept is simple: Students excelling in their classes are automatically placed in advanced courses for the subsequent academic year.”

While other states contemplate automatic enrollment strategies, Plucker and Berg acknowledged North Carolina’s pioneering stance. North Carolina’s protocol commences in third grade and guarantees access to high school-level mathematics for exceptionally qualified middle school students.

During Tuesday’s discourse, Plucker informed lawmakers that the fraction of high-performing North Carolina students unassigned to advanced math courses witnessed a substantial and consistent decline.

“In terms of enrollment, I contend that it is undeniably effective. … There has been inclusive progress, which I find highly significant,” Plucker expressed. “Various factors likely contribute to this trend. Pandemic recovery is likely one. However, automatic enrollment undeniably plays a role in this development as well.”

In 2019, legislators revised the state statute to mandate an annual report from DPI on implementation. Take a glance at some key points from the 2023 report here:

  • For eligible eighth-grade students, statistical data indicates that over 95% were placed in Math 1 or other advanced mathematics courses, showcasing a 1% enhancement from the prior reporting year.
  • This eighth-grade surge applies to all race and ethnic groups as per the report. Pre-legislation (2017-18), solely 87% of eligible eighth graders accessed N.C. Math 1 in eighth grade.
  • Out of students deserving enrolment in advanced courses, the enrollment rate stands at 94% for white, 92% for Black, 92% for Hispanic, 88% for American Indian/Alaska Native, and over 95% for Asian students.
  • Middle school students exhibit a higher tendency to opt for advanced courses starting from the sixth grade. Last year, 90% of eligible sixth-grade students pursued an advanced math course.
  • Based on current data spanning grades six to twelve, 94% of eligible students, both male and female, enrolled in advanced mathematics courses. Females witnessed a 2% rise, while males experienced a 3% increase compared to the previous year.

The analysis by The 74 reflected that several districts credited the policy for accelerating students who might have otherwise been neglected. Districts responded by forging alliances between middle and high schools, broadening virtual instruction, tailoring support to cater to individual student needs, and amplifying access to advanced education for those previously devoid of such avenues.

Refer to the Johns Hopkins School of Education report, serving as the foundation for The 74 article, here. You can also access DPI’s comprehensive presentation here.

Potential advancements in automatic enrollment and math

Plucker highlighted several prospects for future automatic enrollment initiatives:

  • Expanding automatic enrollment in North Carolina to encompass other subject areas like English Language Arts or science.
  • Facilitating opportunities for students expressing interest in advanced courses to partake in them. “If students nominate themselves, they should be granted the chance,” he asserted.
  • Sustaining endeavors to bolster math education, encompassing teacher training, top-notch curriculum, and an emphasis on research and evaluation.

Maher emphasized the necessity for schools to provide supportive measures for students embarking on advanced coursework for the first time.

“The forthcoming steps involve ongoing scrutiny of our data to identify disparities and explore additional prospects,” he remarked. “We are also keen on deliberations regarding extending automatic enrollment to other subjects.”

Screenshot from Plucker’s presentation on automatic enrollment policies.

Plucker also proposed several research queries pertinent to North Carolina:

  • Why do participation rates decline in sixth and twelfth grades? How can this be rectified?
  • What strategies are elementary schools employing to enhance the performance of students?
  • What tactics have districts employed successfully to boost access? Conversely, what strategies have proven ineffective?
  • How are districts leveraging automatic enrollment to complement other advanced educational services?
  • What impact does automatic enrollment exert on an array of student outcomes?

Above all, Plucker and Maher emphasized the imperative for state leadership to prioritize both remediation and excellence in mathematics education.

“We are deeply committed not only to continuing our support for high-achieving math students but also to reaching out to underserved students in math — aiming to accelerate math education for all children,” Maher concluded.