Test scores plunge anticipated
RALEIGH — North Carolina parents can expect initially lower standardized test scores for their children and local public schools once state educators officially raise the bar for passing grades, state schools superintendent June Atkinson says.
The State Board of Education on Thursday delayed by one month approval of the details of the new achievement standards for end-of-grade and end-of-course tests and other assessments. But Atkinson said the changes are ultimately coming and will be reflected in the results of tests last spring that still haven't been released.
Those results, originally set to be released in October, now are likely to come out in November, she said.
The new standards, approved previously by the state board, are designed to increase standards that determine grade-level proficiency and how prepared students are to enter college or a career path. More rigorous standards approved for math and reading in the past decade also meant a lower percentage of students were deemed proficient in both at first before the percentage resumed upward.
"We have always seen a drop — that's what our history shows us," Atkinson said in an interview of the initial tests.
For example, the Department of Public Instruction projects with the new standards only 40 percent of the fifth graders that took end-of-grade math tests in the spring will be labeled proficient, compared to 69 percent if the standards used in 2011-12 were retained. For high school biology, 45 percent will be deemed proficient compared to 74 percent under old standards.
Atkinson has been speaking with media outlets about the changes, while DPI has provided materials to local school districts in preparation. She said UNC-TV is expected to air a town hall meeting to field parents' questions about the changes. State board members this week said they were also worried whether the lower scores would decrease morale in districts.
"There is a lot of angst," Atkinson said.
Atkinson said DPI is considering whether scores for students and schools be released based on both the old and new standards. The new testing standards will serve as the basis for a new accountability model approved by the General Assembly that will grade schools on an A-to-F range starting with tests taken this coming spring. The old ABCs performance standards, begun in the late 1990s, no longer exist.
The board on Thursday also gave preliminary approval for 26 additional charter schools to open their doors next fall, likely bringing the total operating at that time to around 150. The decisions were based on the recommendations of an advisory council that reviewed the applications. Six others were denied charters.
The school-choice advocacy group Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina said Thursday's recipients include three that will open the first charters in Harnett, Halifax and Bertie counties. The legislature in 2011 removed the state's 100-charter cap, which had been in place since charter schools were first created in North Carolina in the mid-1990s. The organizations now behind the winning applications now must go through a yearlong planning process.
The board also changed rules to help more teachers qualify for higher pay for advanced degrees before a phase-out begins next year.
The General Assembly passed a budget law this summer that says teachers won't be able to get paid at the higher level unless they were paid at that level before the 2014-15 school year begins.
Under the previous rules, the teacher would have to complete a master's or doctoral degree before April 1 to receive the higher salary that school year. The board agreed to extend the deadline to early May, when most college semesters end.
Gov. Pat McCrory told the board Wednesday he had found a way for all teachers currently seeking an advanced degree — perhaps more than 3,000 of them — to receive the higher pay even if they finish after this spring. A master's degree, for example, means a 10 percent pay increase. But the legislature, which is next scheduled to meet in May, would have to agree to any changes.