State adopts new standards for testing

November 5, 2013

North Carolina has been a pioneer in school accountability since 1996, which was the first year of the state’s initial school accountability model called the ABCs of Public Education. This model measured student academic growth and the performance of schools statewide. Since those early days of school-based accountability, North Carolina educators and leaders have learned a great deal about how to measure and improve student and school performance.

Today, North Carolina’s curriculum is focused on the most critical knowledge and skills that students need to learn. During the 2012-2013 school year, our teachers and students began using new standards for learning. These new standards describe what students should learn in every subject and at every grade level. This new Standard Course of Study is the latest update and is designed to meet the needs of today’s students to be career and college ready. These new standards are aligned with the national Common Core standards for English/Language Arts and Math and North Carolina’s own Essential Standards for other subject areas. These are, by far, tougher standards and more demanding of our students. We must continue to challenge our students to a higher level if we are to ensure they are college and career ready.

Along with the new learning standards, students took new End-of-Grade and End-of-Course tests to measure their learning. The State Board of Education is expected to release the results of the 2013 spring End-of-Grade and End-of-Course assessments on Thursday. The individual student score will go out within the next month. All parents, not only in the Public Schools of Robeson County, but throughout North Carolina, will see a lower proficiency score for their student than in previous years. Please do not be alarmed by this.

The assessment is for grades third through eighth and high school. These test scores reflect assessment for high school Math I, English II and Biology. Students in grades third through eighth were tested on Reading, Math and Science.

The teaching method and what students are learning are undergoing a transformation. For example, rather than teaching how to arrive at an answer and then complete practice items on a worksheet, we now present students with a problem and let them discover the process for finding the answer. Students are learning to think for themselves, how to problem solve, how to collaborate with others to solve problems, how to create, and how to find answers when they do not know the answer.

In some cases, students are taking online assessments rather than pencil and paper tests. The focus has shifted from only grade-level readiness to career and college readiness. In practical terms, this means students are expected to master more difficult material earlier in school, to solve problems that are real-world questions and to express their ideas clearly and with supporting facts. Overall, the new standards and assessments are more rigorous to ensure that when students master them they are ready to compete in today’s economy and participate in society.

New York and Kentucky both transitioned to Common Core the year before us. Their scores reflected a similar decline. When you get your child’s score, it is important to understand that it is not an indication your child is not doing as well as in previous years. Again, it means the demands of courses and the requirements to reach proficiency have changed significantly. These scores cannot be compared with previous years’ scores with validity, but instead serve as a baseline for improved performance in subsequent years.

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Johnny Hunt is the superintendent for the Public Schools of Robeson County.