Last week, we ran a story on Johnston student scores on the latest end-year tests given by the state. Truth be told, we didn’t find the scores useful, and we doubt parents did either.
The problem is that after North Carolina students performed so dismally last year, state lawmakers lowered the scores needed to pass this year’s tests. That makes it pointless to compare this year’s passing rates to last year’s.
To make matters worse, the state made no attempt to compare apples to apples when reporting this year’s scores. Johnston school leaders say they did so, but they have not made their comparison public.
So what are parents to make of this year’s scores? We’d say “not much,” but it seems to us that parents and taxpayers can take one thing from the scores: North Carolina has low expectations of its lowest-performing schools.
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In recent years, North Carolina has taken to reporting not only scores but whether the scores meet its expectations for each and every school. That means it’s possible for a school to do exceptionally well but still fail to meet expectations because the state thought the school would do even better. Conversely, it’s possible for most students at a school to fail the state tests but exceed expectations because, frankly, the state thought even more would fail.
That happened at a number of Johnston County schools this past year. At West Smithfield Elementary, for example, 68.4 percent of students failed their end-year tests, but the school exceeded expectations because the state thought an even higher percentage would fail. Or take Benson Middle School, which exceeded expectations even though just 46.8 percent of students passed their year-end tests.
Clearly, North Carolina needs to expect more of its students. Education studies dating back nearly 50 years have shown this: When expected to do poorly, students will do poorly; when expected to well, they will excel. That’s not wishful thinking; it’s fact.
And yet this past year, North Carolina expected more than two-thirds of West Smithfield students to fail. And it was apparently satisfied that no Johnston County school saw more than 78 percent of its students performing at or above grade level. Countywide, the passing rate was just 58 percent.
We’re certain Johnston County students can do better. But first the state must expect better.