Raising standards

First Posted: 11/13/2013

The first thing you need to understand about recently released test scores for North Carolina’s public schools is, well, how to understand the test scores.

Unfortunately, few people can solve that Rubik’s Cube.

North Carolina, since the adoption of the now extinct ABC’s of education in the mid-1990s, has been aggressive in trying to grade our public schools so that parents can understand how their children’s stack up with others across the state. The idea is that information can be used by parents to make sure their children are not being shortchanged in the classroom.

But the goalposts have been continually moved and, we worry, too few parents really understand the information that is being provided, negating its value.

One thing that should be clear over almost two decades of grading schools is that Robeson County’s trail others across the state. Blame this county’s demographics and our history of denying the best education opportunities to about 70 percent of the population, leaving a longer — and not yet traveled — road. It is best to compare our students with our students, not with their peers across the state. But this year, that couldn’t be fairly done.

Before the recent release of test scores in North Carolina, there was a determined PR campaign, but on the state level and the county level, to lower expectations so to soften the blow. The reason was simple: The new methodology, approved by the state Board of Education, raises standards that determine grade-level proficiency and how prepared students are to enter college or a career. More rigorous standards obviously meant a lower percentage of students were deemed proficient.

So school officials, both across the state and locally, cautioned parents against using this year’s results and comparing them with last year’s. On Tuesday night, school administrators raised that yellow flag for members of the Board of Education.

The best approach is to consider this year’s results as a baseline, one that can be used next year to see if our schools are trending upward, not sideways or downward.

We endorse the state Board of Education’s decision to raise the standards, believing that our children will rise to the challenge. That approach is contrary to a local decision by our school board earlier this year that students who skipped classes, ignored homework and failed tests were still worthy of a numerical grade of 65 — an initiative based on the philosophy that allowing students to fall hopelessly behind will only mean they exit the school system.

We prefer the state’s approach, believing that rewarding students who don’t make the effort will ill-prepare them for the rough-and-tumble real world. The state, thankfully, asks more from our students, which is the best way to get it.