Governor issues warning for release of next week's testing scores
RALEIGH — Gov. Pat McCrory is trying to brace North Carolina parents for a report next week showing fewer public school students passed statewide tests that are being graded under tougher new standards.
McCrory on Wednesday told the state's Education Cabinet the release of end-of-grade and end-of-course scores Nov. 7 will show fewer students and schools met proficiency requirements. This comes after the State Board of Education approved the higher achievement standards last month.
The new standards will likely mean higher failure rates in most of the reading, math and science tests that students took last spring. The initial analysis shows a roughly 30 to 40 percentage-point drop in the passing rate on some tests during the 2012-13 academic year compared to the previous year.
The new standards, which replace the ABCs of Public Education model approved in the mid-1990s, mean the performance of North Carolina children in grades 3-12 can be measured better against students in other states and other countries, the governor said.
"We've got to remember that our teachers and our students didn't suddenly decline overnight. They didn't decline at all. They've not lost ground," McCrory said. "We in North Carolina now are basically performing in a higher league."
The governor said he and other state officials must prepare the public for the lower passing rates. The scores won't affect an individual student's current placement in a grade. A similar upward adjustment in proficiency levels in the past decade also resulted in fewer students passing initially.
Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson also has been speaking about the changes. State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey said Wednesday the test should still show growth in raw test scores, which he called a positive.
"People need to focus on growth, because it's what a teacher does and what a school does with a child ... making sure that they stay on grade level or catch up, or get ahead of grade level," Cobey said.
McCrory's education Cabinet is comprised of University of North Carolina system president Tom Ross; state community college system president Scott Ralls; Hope Williams with North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities; and Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Aldona Wos. They oversee education from pre-kindergarten to the college level.
McCrory revived the Cabinet when he took office and sought to get competing education interests to work together toward a unified approach that shares resources and goals. The Cabinet, along with McCrory senior education adviser Eric Guckian, aims to develop a three-year strategic plan by next spring so that changes requiring legislation can be considered by the General Assembly when it meets in May.
Cabinet members Wednesday discussed ideas for a preliminary plan. They include collecting more detailed data linking graduates and their occupations to labor needs of companies, expanding apprenticeship activities and sharing information technology and financial aid services to save money.
A subcommittee led by Atkinson and Wos also recommended eliminating a 2004 state law that with few exceptions directs public school districts to start classes no earlier than late August and end no later than early June.
The law came about as the coastal tourism industry and some parents wanted to keep summers open to free time and vacations. School superintendents have chafed under the law, which they say rejects local control and flexibility to adjust calendars to community needs. But lawmakers under Democratic and Republican rule have largely kept the limits intact.
"I know the politics of it," McCrory said.
Atkinson, a Democrat, said giving districts the ability to set their calendars would lead to more innovative education models. Sprinkling vacation time throughout the year, rather than concentrating it in the summer, could reduce the need for remedial instruction at the start of each school year, she said. Cobey, a Republican appointed by McCrory, said he also supported calendar flexibility.