Increasing Access to Advanced Math Coursework in North Carolina

Research finds that students who enroll in and complete advanced math courses are more likely to be ready for post-secondary education than students who don’t. That’s why when the News & Observer uncovered that thousands of high-achieving students across North Carolina were being denied access to advanced math courses, BEST NC began advocating for an automatic placement policy for advanced math. State policy, which was passed in 2018 and updated in 2019, now guarantees all students who score at the highest level on the math End-of-Grade test in grades 3 through 8 will be have access to advanced learning opportunities or advanced math courses the following year. More details on this nation-leading policy below.

'Counted Out':

The News & Observer explores why low-income children are often left out of advanced math and other gifted classes

Advanced Math:
A Gateway to Long-Term Success

Similar to reading on-grade-level in 3rd grade, completing an advanced math course by 8th grade is strongly correlated with long-term student success such as enrolling and completing college.  In fact, research finds that students who complete a high school level math course in 8th grade are significantly more likely to be prepared for post-secondary education and to have post-secondary success than similarly scoring peers who do not take high school level math in 8th grade. Conversely, students who do not complete a high school level math in 8th grade are less likely to graduate from high school and matriculate into post-secondary education.

Research also finds that a more challenging course of study actually leads to more long-term success for students, contrary to rhetoric suggesting students may not be “up for” the challenge. A 2006 study tracked the academic performance of students with similar math abilities and found that student who were placed in more difficult math courses in middle school were much more likely to successfully complete college-prep level math courses in high school than their peers.

Automatic Enrollment: House Bill 986

Failing to place highly-qualified students into advanced math courses forces them into a less-rigorous academic track, creating a ripple effect that limits their lifelong academic potential. In 2018, in response to the findings in the News & Observer’s “Counted-Out” series, BEST NC advocated for the passage of House Bill 986.

The policy, which enjoyed bipartisan sponsorship, passed unanimously in both legislative chambers, and was signed by the governor requires that all students who score a level five (the highest level) on their EOG tests in math be automatically placed in an advanced math class the following year. By basing placement on an objective measure like test scores, instead of relying solely on teacher recommendations, this policy ensures that all high-achieving students receive access to rigorous coursework regardless of their demographic background.

In just one short year, the policy has had a tremendous impact on access to advanced math in North Carolina. During the 2018-19 school year, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) estimates that more than 8,000 talented students were given access to advanced math courses that they would otherwise not had access. In 8th grade alone, 2,100 students were “placed up” into Math I (typically taken in 9th grade) during the summer of 2018 after having been originally placed in regular or even remedial 8th grade math.

Strengthening Policy Implementation: Senate Bill 500

In 2019, BEST NC advocated for Senate Bill 500, which updated the original policy by:

  • Clarifying that advanced learning opportunities, similar to those provided for academically and intellectually gifted (AIG) students, should be provided in grades 3 through 5, where advanced math courses are traditionally not offered;
  • Directing districts who did not provide high school level math for high-achieving 8th grade students during the 2018-19 school year to develop a plan to begin offer those opportunities;
  • Creating an annual report on policy implementation, including capturing how the demographic makeup of advanced math course enrollment is altered by the policy; and
  • Directing NC DPI to provide guidance to districts on implementation.


The policy was passed by the General Assembly unanimously and was signed into law by Governor Cooper on July 11, 2019.

Additional Resources