The decision for Leandro v. State of North Carolina has implications for the state’s school testing program


The Leandro v. State of North Carolina case represents a significant milestone in upholding the constitutional right of every child to an education that will adequately prepare them for their future employment and engagement in society.

The Leandro v. State of North Carolina decision affirmed that:

1. The state constitution guarantees its citizens a minimum standard of education

2. Our public education system is failing to provide this minimum standard to every child

Although Leandro was decided by the North Carolina Supreme Court nearly 25 years ago, the state still hasn’t met its constitutional obligation to provide adequate education.

The state is required to make the policy and funding changes needed to bring the school system into compliance with the constitution, regardless of budgetary pressures or political agenda.


The court-ordered analysis of the state’s public school system “Sound Basic Education for All: An Action Plan for North Carolina” (2019) provided a list of 8 critical needs that would have to be fulfilled to give students the education they are owed.

The state’s ASSESSMENT SYSTEM (school testing) and ACCOUNTABILITY SYSTEM (which uses student test scores to score school and teacher performance) were both named in the report as factors contributing to the state’s failure to provide an adequate education for every child.

In January of 2020, the judge responsible for the resolution of Leandro v. State of North Carolina issued an order to the state to develop a schedule of short-term and long-term actions, and to report on the need for additional funding. The state’s plan is expected to be submitted in February 2021.

The North Carolina General Assembly must enact policies to address each of the 8 critical needs, including reform measures for the assessment and accountability systems. It is predicted that the gradual roll out of these changes will be complete by 2028.

It’s up to us to hold our elected officials accountable for providing for our children with the sound, basic education they are constitutionally guaranteed.

North Carolina Families for School Testing Reform will be closely following the progress of the Leandro resolution, focusing on the components related to student testing.

Look for our calls to action via social media!

MORE about Leandro v. State of North Carolina

Learn from the Leandro experts!

Every Child NC is a state-wide coalition of advocacy groups working to enforce the Leandro recommendations in order to guarantee the right of every child to a sound, basic education.

“Sound Basic Education for All: An Action Plan for North Carolina” – analysis of the North Carolina public school system led by the independent consulting group WestEd. (2019)



DETAILS from the Leandro REPORT:

Analysis of the Student Assessment System and School Accountability System

The report concluded that improving assessment and accountability was one of eight critical needs the state needed to meet to provide a sound, basic education for every child. The specific findings and recommendations are listed below.

Overall, the report recommended the systems be improved to provide:

  • information needed by educators, parents, policymakers, and others about the school effectiveness and student learning and progress
  • data allowing evaluation of educational programs and compliance with the Leandro requirements.

Findings: Assessment

  1. The state summative assessments meet federal requirements and are aligned to North Carolina academic standards but lack some elements of rigor and depth that are articulated in the academic standards. State assessments rely heavily on multiple-choice items, lacking opportunities for students to demonstrate their abilities to reason, solve complex problems, and communicate effectively.
  • The state’s achievement levels do not clearly indicate whether students are ready for college and careers or what is necessary for a sound basic education. North Carolina utilizes five achievement levels (Levels 1–5) when reporting results for state assessments. Level 3, means achieving “on-grade-level,” and Level 4 means achieving “college and career readiness.” North Carolina’s accountability system focuses on students scoring at Level 3 or above, but past Leandro rulings indicate that students are expected to achieve at the college- and career-readiness level.
  • There are opportunities to increase coherence between curriculum, instruction, and assessment in North Carolina. While the Department of Public Instruction provides instructional support materials through its website, none are vetted or endorsed by the state.
  • Supporting assessment for learning, including interim assessments, can enable a more balanced and student-centered assessment system. The state has the opportunity to use newly-required district reports on their testing requirements to create a more balanced, comprehensive assessment system.
  • There is a lack of alignment between the state assessment system and the state’s theory of action as articulated in Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan. Although the state claims it is working to create an “adaptive and personalized learning environment for every student,” the state’s assessment system fails to do so.

Recommendations: Assessment

  1. Establish a more balanced and student-centered assessment system. DPI should promote the use of the NC Check-Ins to replace local assessments.
  2. Clarify alignment between the assessment system and the state’s theory of action.
  3. Include additional item types that provide a broader understanding of students’ knowledge, skills and abilities.
  4. Improve coherence among curriculum, instruction and assessment. DPI should bolster professional development efforts and state-provided resources related to standards-based instruction
  5. Revise achievement levels to align with the court’s standard of a sound basic education.

Findings: Accountability

  1. North Carolina’s accountability system is primarily based on measures of student performance on summative assessments and does not include, or uses only in limited ways, a number of opportunity-to-learn indicators. Opportunity-to-learn indicators include measures that can capture how students are experiencing learning, such as measures of school climate, chronic absenteeism, student suspensions and expulsions, extended-year graduation rates, and access to programs that support college and career readiness.
  • The accountability system emphasizes students’ proficiency status over their growth, which results in a strong bias against schools that largely serve economically disadvantaged students and fails to credit these schools with successful efforts that are foundational to their students’ receiving a sound basic education. Research demonstrates that there is a strong negative relationship between achievement measures and poverty at the school level. Therefore, focusing primarily on achievement to evaluate school performance biases the evaluation system against schools that serve large percentages of economically disadvantaged students and rewards schools with wealthier populations.
  • The accountability system does not take critical factors into account when determining which schools are identified as being among the lowest-performing schools in need of state-provided interventions and supports. North Carolina uses school performance grades to identify the lowest-performing schools. Focus on this single, narrow data point can result in students’ and schools’ specific needs being unidentified and unaddressed.

Recommendations: Accountability

  1. Amend the current accountability system, including the information provided by the North Carolina Dashboard, to include measures of progress toward providing all students with access to a sound basic education, several of which North Carolina currently uses.
    • Include measures of student opportunities to learn.
    • Expand measures of student outcomes.
  2. Include in North Carolina Dashboard state, district and school performance and growth (both overall and by student subgroup) on a comprehensive set of measures that would indicate progress toward meeting the Leandro tenets and is inclusive of the reporting requirements under ESSA.
    • Include information on teacher and principal qualifications, early childhood access, prekindergarten access, and funding levels, in addition to student outcomes.
  3. To measure progress toward meeting the requirements of Leandro, North Carolina’s accountability system should be structured to reward growth in school performance on an indicator, in addition to status on select indicators.
  4. Use a process for identifying schools for support and improvement that includes a set of decision rules to meet the requirements under ESSA and Leandro.
  5. Use data from the accountability system at the state, district, and school levels to guide planning and budget decisions and to assess school progress and improvement efforts.
    • Require all districts to complete an accountability plan articulating their three-year policy goals and accompanying budget allocations across the Leandro tenets.
  6. Use the data provided in the North Carolina Dashboard to identify the appropriate evidence-based interventions and supports.

READ WestEd’s supplemental reports about assessment and accountability in NC schools

North Carolina’s Statewide Assessment System:
How Does the Statewide Assessment System Support
Progress Toward Meeting the Leandro Requirements?

North Carolina’s Statewide Accountability
: How to Effectively Measure Progress
Toward Meeting the Leandro Tenets