Ask the Superintendent: Taking a look at new state standards

Nov. 11, 2013 @ 11:46 PM

Last week, the state Department of Public Instruction released school performance data for 2012-13. Because this covered the first year of brand new, highly rigorous state standards for what we teach and how we test it, the data lead me to two conclusions: I am encouraged by what our students and teachers accomplished last year, and we have more work to do to support student achievement.
Here are some questions that we have been asked since we began talking with our community about the new state standards, as well as after the release of last week’s data.
Q: How are the 2012-13 scores different from prior years?
A: The last school year was the first in which our teachers taught to the new state standards, including the Common Core and the North Carolina Essential Standards.  Our teachers and students had to adjust to new material.
At the same time, the grading standards were raised. Jim Key, our area superintendent for high schools, gives this example: On the old biology End-of-Course exam, a student needed to correctly answer 29 out of 60 questions to be considered proficient. This year, that student would need 42 correct answers. So the scores reflect the impact of new material and a higher bar.
Q: What’s the difference between growth and proficiency?
A: For many years in North Carolina, academic growth has been a key measure of how our schools are doing in educating our children. Growth is a measure of how far a child progressed during a school year, regardless of where he or she started. This past year, 77 percent of Durham Public Schools met or exceeded academic growth expectations, which is well ahead of the state average (71 percent).
However, because the new state standards include significantly higher goals, some of our students have even more growth to accomplish before they will be considered proficient in a given subject. Strong academic growth tells us that we are on the right track, but it will take time and effort to accelerate that growth to meet the new levels of proficiency.
Q: What about our schools that had low proficiency scores?
A: This is a single measure, at a single point in time, which establishes a new baseline from which our schools shall improve. Our schools are scheduling Parent Information Sessions that will help families understand all of the academic progress indicators, the strengths as well as challenges, which make up just a part of the total picture of our schools.
The change in the standards by which our schools are held accountable has been significant. But the academic growth of our students, who have been led by some of the hardest working teachers in North Carolina, gives me confidence that our schools will rise to the challenge. It will take an increased level of commitment and partnership between our schools, families and community.
Just as our students tend to rise to high expectations, so shall our schools.

Dr. Eric J. Becoats is superintendent of Durham Public Schools. He answers readers’ questions in his column the second Tuesday of each month. Submit your questions to