N.C. senator proposes ending plans to help struggling students

A Senate leader on education issues wants to eliminate the requirement for teachers to create plans designed to help students at risk of failing.

Sen. Jerry Tillman, an Archdale Republican, said the “personal education plans,” as they’re called, are an added paperwork burden for teachers. Once the plans are written, they often aren’t used, Tillman said, and good teachers know how to adjust their approach to meet student needs.

“They’re rarely worth the paper they’re written on,” he said.

But getting rid of plans intended to help struggling students is controversial at a time of intensified focus on student proficiency.

The state has new laws requiring most students be competent readers by the end of third grade and giving schools A-F grades based mostly on student performance on standardized tests.

It would be wrong to get rid of plans that are supposed to help struggling students at a time so much is riding on standardized test results, said Christopher Hill, director of the Education and Law Project at the left-leaning N.C. Justice Center.

“To tell teachers and students that everything you have is riding on a standardized test and we’re not going to give you any help is to abandon students,” he said. “That’s not what we want to do in North Carolina. That’s not our way.”

Teachers are required to develop the plans in the early weeks of school for students who are not performing at grade level. Plans are supposed to include strategies for students to catch up – activities such as tutoring or attendance at Saturday school – and ways to measure student progress.

The plans had been required for students beginning in fourth grade, but Senate Republicans’ signature reading law, which Tillman co-sponsored, pushed the requirement for the education plans down to kindergarten.

They no longer are required to be multipage documents. A law Tillman co-sponsored in 2012 says that if all the information is on a student’s report card, nothing else is required.

Professional Educators of North Carolina wants the plans eliminated, said executive director Carol Vandenberg. They take time to build, she said, but teachers say parents often don’t come in to review them.

The organization has about 6,500 members, she said. The results of a survey returned by about 1,000 members had 84 percent saying that eliminating or replacing the personal education plan should be a priority.

“Teachers know the students at risk, they know what needs to be done to ensure those students are successful,” she said. “This is memorialization of what they know. What more is it doing? I don’t know that it’s doing anything.”

Bonner: 919-829-4821;

Twitter: @Lynn_Bonner