NC schools chief June Atkinson says test scores will drop this year

lbonner@newsobserver.comAugust 12, 2013 

Public schools’ standardized test scores will drop this year, June Atkinson, state superintendent of public instruction, said Monday.

Last week, the state Department of Public Instruction announced that the four-year graduation rate reached a record high 82.5 percent this year. But expect more sobering news this fall, Atkinson said, when DPI releases the results of English/language arts and math tests based on new Common Core standards.

Student scores drop whenever new tests are introduced, she said.

In a wide-ranging session with journalists on Monday, Atkinson talked about issues and challenges facing public education. Here are highlights of her conversation.

On competition from private schools: Atkinson said traditional public schools will see increased competition from charter schools and private schools for students because of a new voucher program. Families that meet income guidelines will be able to use $4,200 a year in taxpayer money to send their children to private schools. The state budget included $10 million for vouchers beginning in the 2014-15 school year.

On testing: Atkinson said she would like to see students at private and public schools take the same tests so parents can compare scores. She also said private schools should receive performance grades based on student achievement, just as public schools will.

The legislature upped the testing requirement for private schools, but schools can choose which national tests to administer and don’t have to report scores unless they enroll more than 25 students with vouchers.

“The public needs a consistent measure of reading achievement in particular,” Atkinson said, and the information would be important to parents making decisions on where to send their children.

House Majority Leader Paul Stam, who championed what he calls “opportunity scholarships,” said Atkinson should concentrate on improving public schools.

“She should stick to her own knitting,” said the Apex Republican.

On teacher bonuses: Earlier this month, McCrory proposed rewarding 1,000 top teachers with $10,000 stipends, with the money coming from the state’s federal Race to the Top grant funds.

Using the money for stipends would require federal approval, Atkinson said, because it would mean taking money from another grant-funded endeavor.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions, and I’m sure that the U.S. Department of Education will have lots of questions,” she said.

Both she and McCrory would have to sign off on the request to move money, Atkinson said.

Bonner: 919-829-4821

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