If you’re a parent, you’ll probably recognize this moment: Your child brings home a test score that’s lower than expected. A lot lower. You’re startled, maybe angry. You want to know how this came to be.
Now take that moment and multiply it by hundreds of thousands.
Today, in Mecklenburg County and across North Carolina, school districts will announce the first math and reading test scores aligned to the Common Core standards the state adopted in 2010. The scores will be low – jarringly so for many. The tests are tougher than previous tests, and students’ proficiency will be measured against a Common Core curriculum that’s more rigorous than what they have been exposed to. Also, unlike earlier tests, poor performers weren’t allowed a retake.
N.C. educators have long known all of this, but the results will be startling to others. When individual scores are also released this month, parents of struggling students will see that their children are even further behind than they thought. Parents of stronger students will discover that their kids aren’t as accomplished as the grades on their report cards indicated.
“It’s going to be an adjustment for people,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Heath Morrison told the Observer’s editorial board Wednesday.
But that adjustment is why officials in 48 states decided to collaborate on developing consistent, demanding math and reading standards for students. The lack of common standards was resulting in a high number of students having to take remedial math and English courses in college, and even the best U.S. students were falling behind those in other countries.
In North Carolina, educators have long complained about high school graduates lacking basic skills and knowledge. The Fordham Institute, which studies state standards, gave North Carolina's pre-Common Core standards a D.
“Either we are going to dedicate ourselves in education to truly getting kids college ready, or we are not,” Morrison said.
But today, and days like it across the country, unfairly threaten to derail that effort. High-stakes testing opponents will use the N.C. results to bemoan the additional stress that tests put on teachers and families. Conservative legislators will see the scores as affirmation that public schools are broken, and Common Core critics will pounce, taking advantage of this vulnerable moment to trot out myths about a federal takeover of public education.
A handful of states already have backed away from Common Core commitments, citing the cost of tests or proposing, in Georgia’s case, to develop their own rigorous standards. A better model to follow is Kentucky, which was the first state to experience the initial trauma of dismal Common Core test scores last year.
Instead of shrinking from those results, Kentucky officials have persevered and plowed ahead with teacher training while actively educating citizens about Common Core. Scores on the second round of testing this year showed enough improvement to encourage educators, but at a pace slow enough to remind everyone that it will be a long road to success.
CMS and N.C. officials should be equally as proactive in helping families understand the transition to Common Core. Also, they should be transparent in releasing test questions and data, so that parents can better see what’s expected of their children. (A side benefit: Understanding the critical thinking skills Common Core requires will lessen the anxiety some have about teaching to the test.)
Today will produce a different kind of anxiety, as parents and educators discover how much better our schools need to be. It’s not a pleasant realization, but it’s one we need to embrace.
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