Superintendent’s Corner: Supporting teachers, students as they deal with new standards

Nov. 25, 2013 @ 11:08 AM

Since the Department of Public Instruction on Nov. 7 released school proficiency scores under our new state academic standards, all of us in the DPS community have reflected on what these higher expectations mean for our school system and, more importantly, our students and schools themselves.
In early December, families will receive state progress reports that will provide detailed information about their student’s scores on End-of-Grade and End-of-Course exams. The reports will include descriptions of what knowledge, skills and abilities their student demonstrated; a comparison of how their student performed against other students in North Carolina, DPS and his or her school; and an achievement level between one and four (three and four meaning “proficient”).
Just as school proficiency scores have declined, so have student scores. Some students will have worked hard all year, grown academically, and may still fall from a Level 3 to a Level 2. It is important that they and their parents not be discouraged.
The 2012-13 state proficiency scores simply set a baseline. They neither affect a child’s grade nor a teacher’s evaluation this year, and these scores were not used in determining whether a student is promoted to the next grade.
Also, our students are generally performing better than they did last year: 77 percent of our schools made expected or high academic growth. Instead, it is as though all of our students were called up from the minor leagues to the majors. A higher level of play is required. We must reassure them that we will support them—as parents, teachers, volunteers and community leaders.
Raising standards is one part of the solution to higher academic achievement. A more rigorous curriculum and a steeper climb should better prepare our younger students for future grade levels and ensure that our graduates will thrive in higher education and the workplace.
Higher expectations are only one part of the answer, however. Working together as One Durham, we must equip our students to meet them. We also must support our teachers, who have shown patience and strength in learning and teaching the new state standards. We must remind our community that our schools achieved higher academic growth than the state average last year: 77 percent compared to 71 percent. We are growing in the right direction, although our proficiency levels are below the new standards. We must simply accelerate our ascent.
Our students and schools need your encouragement right now: with a greater challenge must come an increased resolve to succeed. Let us make sure that our children and educators alike know that we are behind them.
Eric J. Becoats is superintendent of Durham Public Schools. His column appears the last Tuesday of each month.