‘Core’ of the Matter
New school achievement standards taking some getting used to
The rollout of North Carolina’s new Common Core State Standards curriculum is getting mixed reviews.
Ann Petitjean, president of the Forsyth County Association of Educators, said the National Education Association supports the implementation of Common Core, which has been adopted by 45 states so far, across the board.
“NEA thinks that Common Core is definitely a step in the right direction to reform education,” she said. “… I think that the kids are certainly better off this year than they have been in the past.”
The new standards, which were implemented in North Carolina during the 2012-13 school year, are more rigorous than those of the ABCs of Public Education, the previous student achievement measure used in North Carolina, and are aligned with standards of other states, as part of an effort to make education more uniform throughout America.
Common Core is now the standard for English/language arts and math, while N.C. Essential Standards are used to gauge achievement in all other subjects; the two standards have been dubbed NC READY and include several measurements that were not previously required, including end-of-grade assessments in reading and math for grades 3-8 and similar assessments for grades 5 and 8 in science. NC Ready also requires end-of-course assessments in Math I, Biology and English II for all high school students.
“If they can be successful with Common Core, then they will have some of the same skill sets as other people across the country,” noted Danyelle Parker, principal of Mineral Springs Middle School. “I think that what we’re teaching them are skills that they’re going to be able to use in other aspects of their lives as adults.”
Although the idea of making education standards more rigorous is largely well received, some believe the new curriculum was implemented too quickly, robbing students and teachers of the time they needed to properly master the new methods.
“The biggest angst is the fact that we really only had one year to prepare the teachers and the students for what the test was going to look like,” commented Dr. Amber Baker, principal of Kimberley Park Elementary School. “That’s been the biggest source of contention.”
A.L. “Buddy” Collins, a member of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools and the North Carolina Boards of Education, said he would have preferred a staggered rollout that would allow students and staff more time to adjust to the new approaches to teaching and learning.
“I don’t think anybody is opposed to more rigorous standards. The question is how those standards are being implemented,” he commented. “Students who have not been exposed to that rigor do not have the foundation to be successful.”
As a result of Common Core’s implementation, Forsyth County, like most counties across the state, experienced a drop in academic growth goals during the 2012-13 school year. Slightly more than 42 percent of Forsyth County students in grades 3-8 were proficient in reading, 40.4 percent were proficient in math. Only 39.6 percent of local high school students were proficient in Biology, while 48.1 percent were proficient in English II and 42.3 percent were proficient in Math I. Nearly all of the local averages were slightly lower than the average state percentages
“I don’t believe the tests reflect either the ability of our teachers to teach or the ability of our children to learn,” Collins said.
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Dr. Beverly Emory said the scores came as no surprise to school system officials.
“These results are what we expected,” Emory said in a statement. “Our performance compared to state averages is in line with where we’ve been the past several years. This is a baseline year using new standards, and now we can work on the areas where we need the most improvement.”
Seventy one local schools did meet or exceed expected growth under the new standards.
“I’m encouraged that many of our schools showed growth,” Emory said. “If parents wonder what their children accomplished last year, that shows teaching and learning were taking place. It’s our job to work with all schools to make their growth goals and improve their proficiencies.”
Twenty-one schools, however, did not meet growth goals; nine schools did not receive a growth rating.
Although there is a good reason for the decline in scores, Baker expressed concern that the lower scores could be damaging for the morale of her students and staff.
“The biggest piece that really is unfair and unrealistic is that the state did not think about how to roll this out,” said Baker, whose school met expected growth. “From an administrative standpoint, it’s going to be hard to keep our teachers motivated and keep them moving forward when they’re still dealing with the sting from last year.”
Collins said the curriculum could widen the achievement gap for at-risk students, who already face myriad challenges in trying to keep pace with their more privileged peers. Increased community support is needed to address the societal issues that impact at risk youth, from hunger to poverty, and remove the barriers that they face in learning under any curriculum, Collins said.
“You can’t assume that just by laying an increased rigor in K-3, all the students, whether they’re at risk or not, will be able to meet those standards … there has to be a way to make up the deficit and have some homogeneity,” he remarked. “…If we’re going to hold children to this level of rigor, then we have to place the resources necessary in the classroom to make sure that the children are going to be successful.”
Regardless of whether folks in the support or oppose Common Core, children in public schools need their help, Petitjean said.
“Every child deserves a free, quality education and we have to be vigilant, we have to be their champions,” she said. “We need to start bonding together as a community to get this done.”
For more information about Common Core State Standards in North Carolina, visit http://www.ncpublicschools.org/acre/standards.