Point of View

Common Core standards will help NC meet its challenges

January 15, 2014 

When North Carolina end-of-grade test scores were recently posted, some expressed surprise and dismay about the “decline” in test scores. To say the scores “declined” implies that students were being tested using the same tests on the same content when they were not.

In 2013, North Carolina students were tested on Common Core State Standards, which are more rigorous than North Carolina’s previous standards. CCSS are benchmarked against college and career readiness measures and were endorsed by governors of both parties across the country.

Staying firmly on the path of the strong education standards of Common Core will assure North Carolina’s citizens and business community that our students and future employees are challenged in the classroom and prepared to compete in the global economy.

For years, North Carolina developed its own standards and administered its own tests. The scores on those tests improved year after year, and we were proud of our progress. In 2009, 80 percent of the state’s eighth-graders scored proficient in math on North Carolina tests. But in that same year, on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 36 percent of North Carolina eighth-graders scored proficient in math – a difference of 44 percentage points! How could this happen?

The NAEP has been administered to students across the U.S. for two decades; it is often called “The Nation’s Report Card” because it provides a national comparison of student achievement.


Such a dramatic difference in scores clearly points to a difference in the level of rigor of the standards and the accompanying tests. Most states, North Carolina included, saw large discrepancies between student scores on state-designed tests and NAEP because their standards were lower. Those states largely ignored or explained away the variance and tended to focus only on the “good news” of the results on their own state tests.

No wonder some folks were surprised when our students didn’t do as well on the more rigorous CCSS tests. This gap has existed for years, but few understood or acknowledged it.

If we really want to get an accurate picture of how well North Carolina students are performing compared with fellow N.C. students and those in other states, we need tests that align with the higher standards that the state has wisely adopted. I applaud the courage and commitment that education leaders have demonstrated by setting college- and career-ready standards and by introducing assessments that will provide a true picture of our how students are doing. I also thank legislative leaders, state Board of Education members and the governor for demanding high education standards for our students.

We should also understand that implementing Common Core does not mean North Carolina is ceding any of its authority to the federal government or to a national organization. Instead, the implementation of Common Core means we are finally taking responsibility for the educational standards needed to compete for future jobs and implementing objective tests that will provide solid comparative feedback on our students’ progress.

An excellent public school system is our state’s heritage and the birthright of future generations. We can and must address today’s challenge to produce high school graduates who are college- and career-ready and who will become productive citizens.

Caroline McCullen is the director of Education Initiatives at SAS and a former National Technology Teacher of the Year.

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