Triangle officials tried Thursday to reassure parents that an apparent drop in student performance is the result of new, more rigorous standards – and that improvement is expected in coming years.
They were reacting to the state’s release of results of a new testing and accountability program that show lower-than-usual academic proficiency rates for schools across the Triangle for the 2012-13 school year. Officials warned against direct comparisons because the tests have changed.
But school officials highlighted bright spots in the data as well, including what Wake County officials characterized as steady academic growth. They called the results a baseline against which progress will be measured.
“We begin today to set the stage for a new level of expectation and achievement,” Wake schools Superintendent Jim Merrill said.
Wake schools also released an online guide for parents that explains why the results look different compared with previous years. The school system expects to send parents reports on individual students by late November or early December.
Terry Stoops, director of education studies at the conservative John Locke Foundation, said the key question is not what the first year of scores means but why it took so long for the state to put the new standards into effect.
“They’re implying that the tests and the standards before were not rigorous,” he said.
Now that officials have what they consider a more rigorous test, Stoops said it’s critical the state keeps the same high standards in place, so that results can be measured from year to year.
State and local officials had warned in the lead-up to the release that the proficiency rates would decline because of the new N.C. Essential Standards and the Common Core state standards, and the exams that accompany them. The new system aims to show whether students are preparing for college and careers, not just whether they are prepared for the next grade level.
Wake school board member Christine Kushner said she was encouraged by the county’s growth numbers and impressed by teachers’ performances as they became acquainted with the new standards.
“They stepped up for our kids, and our students stepped up and we’ve been able to see growth. I think that’s really something to celebrate,” she said.
In Wake, the proficiency rates at noncharter schools ranged from 22.9 to 86.8 percent in elementary schools; from 28.7 to 83 percent in middle schools; and from 24.1 to 81 percent in high schools.
But students also met or exceeded expected growth in 11 of 15 subject areas across grade levels. Overall, 140 out of 165 Wake schools met or exceeded growth during the 2012-13 academic school year.
In Cary, specifically, most schools met or exceeded growth expectations, and all but five exceeded the average Wake County proficiency rate.
In Johnston County, only three out of 42 schools exceeded growth expectations: Wilson’s Mills Elementary, Cleveland Middle and Princeton High. An additional 14 schools met growth expectations and 25 did not meet them.
Bradley McMillen, senior director of data and accountability for Wake schools, said officials are able to measure growth, even in a year with a new test, by looking at how students perform compared with their peers from year to year.
Wake officials made the case for the importance of growth at Forestville Elementary School in Knightdale, where 44.9 percent of students meet the overall academic proficiency standard. The school also met or exceeded growth in all subject areas and grade levels and ranked fourth in reading growth and fifth in math growth out of 105 elementary schools.
Principal Dianne Pridgen said teachers have worked hard to integrate the the new standards into their lessons and to make students aware of them.
“We’ve found that just putting the objectives on the board and making students understand the value of what they’re learning has made a big difference,” she said.
Paula Seligson and Andy Specht contributed to this report.