State News

Judge probes if NC schools move weakens learning standard

Posted January 21, 2015

— A changed definition of which children are on-track in their learning progress despite still needing help is part of North Carolina setting higher academic expectations, a top state school official said Wednesday.

The explanation seemed to satisfy Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr., who ordered a court hearing to weigh a decision last March by the State Board of Education changing the definition of whether students have learned what's expected for their grade.

The judge worried the change watered down requirements, but he appeared to accept Deputy State Superintendent Rebecca Garland's explanation that the changed categories are in line with courses that have been made much more difficult.

The hearing is the latest in a series Manning has held over the years to test whether the state's education bureaucracy and policymakers are living up to their constitutional obligation to give every North Carolina child the opportunity to have a sound, basic education. Manning was named by the state Supreme Court to oversee compliance with its decisions in lawsuits that started in 1995 over school funding in poor parts of the state.

The state school board's new, five-level measure of student achievement includes a mid-range score that deems tested third-graders as prepared for the next grade level though they may need continuing help from a teacher to perform successfully in the fourth grade. That differs from the marker the state Supreme Court set in a decision more than a decade ago as showing children were being prepared for college or a career.

"We're not going to go backwards. That's why I got upset about this one," Howard told Garland. "It'd be nice if somebody would have come to see me and explain what it was instead of this gobbledygook that was going on a year ago."

The change was adopted because North Carolina schools revised curricula a few years ago in line with standards that were more academically challenging than what came before, Garland said.

"The only way you move achievement forward in a state is you constantly raise the level of expectations," she said. "Each generation of students is going to be expected to do more, to achieve more, so you're constantly going to have to move the standard."

But when the results for course-ending tests in reading, math, science and other topics for the 2012-13 year were released, fewer than half the students in grade 3 and above scored in the proficient range. At the same time the bar was raised on learning expectations, two new laws were approved that would penalize children and schools for poor student performance, Garland said.

One assigns A-through-F grades to each school beginning next month based mostly on how students performed on standardized tests. The second took effect last year and required third-graders to be able to be proficient readers or risk repeating that year. Projections were that more than half of the state's 105,000 third-graders were likely to fail to meet the higher reading standard in the first year they were applied, pushing most schools into a failing grade too, Garland said.

So, state school officials who had previously classified students as proficient if their test scores were close and they appeared statistically likely to pass the test if given repeat chances formalized it in the passable, middle-ranking new scale, Garland said.

About 200,000 elementary school children failed to meet the proficiency mark on the old, four-level scale in 2011, said Melanie Dubis, a lawyer representing some of the state's poorest school districts. About 300,000 third- through eighth-graders were not meeting the new proficient-with-help standard in 2014, she said, citing state data.


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  • Terry Watts Jan 22, 2015
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    And to add, the State Super for Education is directly answerable to The People - we elect the person in that position, we can just as easily elect someone else.

  • Terry Watts Jan 21, 2015
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    The legislature holds the purse strings...

  • AnonyMouseLOL Jan 21, 2015

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    A professional school super who is responsible to the Governor will just put them, like the various school boards, firmly within the realm of politics putting politics first and the education of children second (or worse), which is what we have right now.

  • Tommy Swan Jan 21, 2015
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    if you have stricter standards then more kids fail,, so you get a few more years of free daycare,,, just what the liberals want

  • truthmatterstome2 Jan 21, 2015

    Another reason to have a professional school super who is responsible to the Governor. Teachers should direct their anger about the standards of education in NC to the person responsible....the elected Super of Public Instruction, not the legislature or governor.

  • AnonyMouseLOL Jan 21, 2015

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    Several decades ago, our sister born November 21st was pushed forward ahead of her age. She struggled each year until 7th grade when she finally failed.

    Neither all that struggling to keep up with others or failing is good for a child.

    Our Mom was blessed when she was finally kept back because it gave her a chance to be in a place where she could keep up with her peers.

    You make sure what's best for your grandson is what happens for him. He doesn't need to feel inferior when he can't keep up or when he fails. If the public school system won't do it, find a private school that will.

  • AnonyMouseLOL Jan 21, 2015

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    He's watching out for the education of the kids of this state.

    With the political shenanigans sometimes played by certain school administrations and school boards in NC, I'm sure that's a full time job for him.

  • AnonyMouseLOL Jan 21, 2015

    I'm glad the kids of NC can count on Judge Manning to have their back. If it was up to some of the school administrations in the state, politics would always be put ahead of children - and that is WRONG!!!

  • James Daniels Jan 21, 2015
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    North Carolina has known for some time that the Common Core standards would be tougher and require a higher level of proficiency. Seems to me that if kids can't read and do math by third grade; we should focus on reading, writing and arithmetic for the grades preceding third grade. Teachers and kids are asked to do more with less time in class than when I was in grade school in the '60s. We did not have science, social studies, etc. until we could read, write and were proficient in math. Then, science was added in third or fourth grade with history and geography added later. We also learned to print and write cursively, graded on the legibility of our handwriting and spelling errors were noted in all courses. Turning the clock back to that era might help students achieve and excel. Technology is important but it doesn't help if one can't read the screen or tech manuals. Spell check/grammar check doesn't catch all errors. If it did, newspapers would not have so many errors. LOL

  • Dee Sides Jan 21, 2015
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    Still sounds like the doublespeak from yesterday. The woman's explanation gave no insights. Unfortunately, the Common Core tests haven't been normed. As a teacher, it is easy to see that the math EOGs match the standards, but the reading EOGs are not written on correct levels and don't match all the standards. Best solution is: pre test, then post test the quarterly skills to see what was mastered and what needs more remediation for mastery.