Final ABCs test scores will be released Thursday

Student-readiness plan replaces test-oriented ratings of N.C. schools

lbonner@newsobserver.com August 1, 2012 

  • Get final ABCs ratings For ABC test results for the 2011-12 school year, see newsobserver.com at 10 a.m. Thursday

The school buildings may look the same but much of what goes on in them will be new this year, reflecting recent decisions about what students should know and how that knowledge is measured.

This is the last year of a much-maligned system that made parents angry, caused teachers to complain that they had to “teach to the test,” and kept principals up nights worried about showing improvement.

The ABCs of Public Education was cutting edge when it got its start 16 years ago because, for the first time, it used test scores to report how individual schools were doing.

But the ABCs are gone after Thursday. In its place is a new measuring stick that emphasizes national standards and students’ readiness for college and work.

State officials have been working for years on a new way to judge schools. But for parents of children in elementary and middle school, the new way is going to look a lot like the old way. Students will still take reading and math tests to determine how much they’ve learned and whether schools are doing a good job.

But in a big shift, what students learn to prepare for those tests will be based on national standards. New tests written to match the new lessons will help determine how North Carolina students measure up against children from around the country.

The first public taste of that change comes Thursday, with the State Board of Education’s annual report on standardized test scores. The “adequate yearly progress” label required for schools under the federal No Child Left Behind law will be gone and replaced by a new measure the state designed. .

Pieces of the state ABCs program have fallen away in recent years. Teachers whose students did well on tests used to receive bonuses. But the legislature stopped handing them out four years ago when the recession hit.

The legislature also dramatically pared the state standardized tests that high school students were required to take, skeptical of their value and in response to parents’ complaints about schools leaning too heavily on them.

N.C. to follow national plan

As the state moves beyond the ABCs, state education officials hope they’ve come up with a new way to measure how prepared students are for college and work. It’s called Ready.

The new plan for measuring schools and students will accompany yet another major change for fall. Schools will introduce a curriculum that reflects national standards for English and mathematics, called the Common Core. With the changed curriculum comes new standardized tests – part of Ready – that will arrive in two phases. In a few years, the plan is to give students reading and math tests developed by specialists in more than 20 states.

After pruning the state tests required of public school students over the past three years, the state next year will add into the mix scores on two national tests: the ACT and WorkKeys. Eleventh graders will take the ACT to determine not only how much they know, but how well their high schools are preparing them for college or work. Students took the test last year to produce a starting point for their schools. Next year the ACT scores and results of WorkKeys, a work-readiness test some high school seniors take, will count toward the schools’ grades.

It was time to update the standards, said Howard Lee, former State Board of Education chairman. Businesses, the UNC system and community colleges were concerned about graduates leaving high school unprepared for jobs or college-level classes, he said.

Success on the national tests will give students a credential, in addition to their high school diploma, that they can show employers, said June Atkinson, state Superintendent of Public Instruction.

WorkKeys is “a credential that is becoming increasingly recognized by business and industry,” she said.

Still tests to take

Meanwhile, the ACT is intended to help students better prepare for college work.

Part of the move toward the ACT was spurred by a report a few years ago that about two-thirds of recent high school graduates had to enroll in remedial classes when they entered community college.

Community College System President R. Scott Ralls said he and Atkinson looked for a way to attack the problem and giving the ACT was one of the solutions. The information students need to do well on the ACT matches what they need to know for entry tests community colleges give, Ralls said.

Atkinson and Ralls expect the percentage of community college students enrolled in remedial courses will drop as public school teachers use student test scores to firm up the soft spots in test-takers’ reading comprehension and math and science knowledge.

“The students are able to be aware of whether they’re college ready while they’re in high school,” Ralls said, “not after they’ve applied to college.”

Bonner: 919-829-4821

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