Closing achievement gaps early

Oct. 13, 2013 @ 02:00 PM

Last week, after six months, a think-tank group brought together to help develop a plan to battle achievement gaps in kindergarten through third grade delivered its recommendations.

In its report to June Atkinson, head of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, the team “proposes a formative assessment process that engages teachers and students with input from parents and families, school support staff, early childhood programs and health care providers.”

“Achievement gaps that grow during the years prior to kindergarten are either solidified or eliminated during the primary grades of elementary school,” the report states.

In Durham, our public school leaders are keenly aware of such gaps and are eager to see them diminished as much as possible, as soon as possible.

This new assessment process could help bridge those gaps for future students in Durham Public Schools. However, the group’s not rushing into it.

They want to form a design team that will build an assessment method from the think-tanks recommendation and come back in September 2014 for a progress report. After that would be a pilot program with a representative sample of students from diverse regions across the state. The group would work with school districts to train teachers to give the assessments, with an eye toward using the process to learn how best to reach these students.

Unlike extra tests such as the Common Exam introduced during the 2012-13 academic year, the assessment “will not be designed for accountability or high-stakes purposes, nor will it be a valid means of evaluating teachers or schools or for accountability purposes.”

If the pilot program works, the K-3 assessment would spread statewide.

It all sounds very measured, very deliberate and prudently cautious, unlike the relatively chaotic implementation of the Common Core standards, which were thrust upon the state’s public schools last year and without the same collaborative mindset.

Measured and cautious sounds good, although one could argue that this new method can’t come soon enough.

Superintendent Eric Becoats has warned that Durham may get a shock to the system when our scores for 2012-13 finally see the light of day, possibly next month. We wouldn’t be surprised to see at least a slight expansion of that troublesome achievement gap.

We appreciate the slow-and-steady approach for this new assessment process, but we hope that the minds behind it can craft an effective tool for helping our young people accomplish their full potential.