Preparing for bad news

Sep. 22, 2013 @ 02:03 PM

Get ready for disappointment.

That seemed to be the message from Durham Public Schools Superintendent Eric Becoats to the Durham City Council last week.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that – unlike summers in the recent past – we have yet to see how North Carolina’s public school students fared on standardized tests in the 2012-13 academic year.

That’s mostly because this is the first year we’ll see how our students have adjusted to the new Common Core curriculum. It took longer to process the results.

But it’s also because administrators across the state – including here in Durham – need extra time to help parents brace for impact.

As The Herald-Sun’s Ray Gronberg reported on Sunday, Becoats said that DPS families can expect “short-term pain,” with the potential for student scores to plummet 20 to 30 percentage points compared to last year.

“We have had to learn the curriculum and implement it at the same time,” Becoats told the City Council. “That is not the ideal situation.”

The new standards, considered more rigorous than the curriculum that allowed DPS leaders to happily proclaim “No low-performing schools!” last year, are liable to yield sobering results later this fall.

But we can at least take some solace in the fact that we’re not alone in making this painful adjustment. North Carolina is one of 45 states that have adopted the standards.

Kentucky, which was the first state to implement the Common Core in 2011, saw results that indicated that “not even a third of students from third to eighth grade were proficient in math and reading,” according to The Associated Press.

Minnesota’s reading proficiency under the new curriculum dropped from 76 to 58 percent, USA Today reported in August.

In New York, according to Forbes.com, 31 percent of students in grades three through eight met or exceeded math and English competency standards – a precipitous drop from 65 and 55 percent respectively. Critics complained that the new curriculum widened the achievement gap between white and minority students, a concern that is certainly nothing new to Durham.

Morale among our local educators, already wrecked by stagnant pay, reduced funding and the loss of students to competing public charter schools, inevitably faces another blow.

It also promises to be a confusing time for parents, noted City Councilman Steve Schewel, who once served on the DPS Board of Education.

“No matter how much good communication you do, it sows confusion,” he said. “You see a kid come in one day with 70 percent proficiency and next year it’s 40 and you can’t understand why [because] the same teacher is there and they’re working with the same level of energy and commitment.”

Despite the confusion, we’re confident these new, more difficult standards should – in the long run – better prepare our students for the world that awaits them.