Ask the Superintendent: Impact of higher academic standards

Sep. 09, 2013 @ 11:23 AM

Since the traditional-calendar school year began on Aug. 26, I have visited 23 of our 56 schools, and am pleased to note that in general they are off to an excellent start. I continue to be impressed with our teachers’ resilience and dedication to their students. I, our school board and leadership team all remain committed to supporting them with every available resource.

Please send your questions for this column to superintendent@dpsnc.net. This is a year of transition for all North Carolina public schools’ academic standards, as this’s month’s questions reflect.
Q: What impact will the state’s higher academic standards have in Durham?
A: Our schools have come far in the past few years, thanks to our teachers’ hard work and our district’s focus through our “One Vision. One Durham.” Strategic Plan. We challenged ourselves to raise our standards and expectations and, as illustrated by our rising graduation rates, those efforts are seeing results.
North Carolina has adopted new, more rigorous standards for curriculum and teaching that will better prepare our students for graduating and moving into college or a career. These were adopted from kindergarten through 12th grade, in all subjects. They are clear, understandable and consistent. In the end, helping our students meet these new standards will build a better foundation for success in life: they will be more critical thinkers, able to gain a deeper understanding of what they study.
Whenever our state changes its standards and curriculum, there is an adjustment period. Teachers learn to teach -- and students face -- more challenging material. The immediate impact of the new standards will be a dip in all schools’ performance results, but we know that our scores will resume an upward trajectory. We will continue to invest in a quality education for all children, and focus on being an innovative, proactive school district preparing our children for college, career and life.
You can find out more about the new standards and their impact at one of the three regional public meetings we are hosting: at the DPS Staff Development Center at 2107 Hillandale Road on Tuesday, Sept. 17, at 1 p.m.; at Northern High School on Tuesday, Sept. 24, at 6 p.m.; and at Southern School of Energy and Sustainability on Monday, Sept. 30, at 6 p.m. I invite you to bring your questions and ideas about how we can take advantage of these higher expectations to foster even more academic success for our children.
Q: I heard that third-graders might be held back from the fourth grade if they don’t pass a reading test. Is that true?
A: Last year, as part of the Excellent Public Schools Act, the state General Assembly created a new program called “Read to Achieve” that takes effect this school year. It sets the goal that every student shall read at or above grade level by the end of the third grade, and sets some specific consequences for those who are unable to meet this goal.
At the end of the year, students will take the third-grade end-of-grade (EOG) reading assessment. If they demonstrate reading proficiency, they may be promoted to the fourth grade. But if a child does not demonstrate proficiency on the reading EOG after a retest, his or her family has options. Families may choose to enroll their child in a DPS-provided Summer Reading Camp. Children who achieve reading proficiency will be promoted to the fourth grade.
Children who still do not demonstrate proficiency, or whose families did not enroll them in the Summer Reading Camp, will be retained in the third grade for the next year — but it will not be a simple repeat of the previous year. Depending on the child’s needs and the resources available to the school, he or she may be placed in either a third-grade/fourth-grade transition class or an accelerated reading class. In both of these situations, students will learn based on fourth-grade standards and curriculum while receiving an intense focus on reading to help them become proficient.
Durham Public Schools will make every possible resource available to our children to enable them to meet this higher standard, exiting the third grade as fluent readers ready to tackle tomorrow’s challenges. Our entire community must join us in this effort. Our libraries, community volunteers and — most importantly — our families must connect our children to a love of reading.
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 superintendent@dpsnc.net.