Campbell: Higher expectations lead to better N.C. test scores

Dec. 16, 2012 @ 11:07 PM

North Carolina’s efforts in improving education appear to be paying dividends. A comparative study of student achievement found our fourth- and eighth-grade students ranked highly with students in other states and other countries.

The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study results for 2011 showed that North Carolina was the only participating U.S. state and one of only eight systems worldwide that outscored the test average and the U.S. average in math. At the eighth-grade level our state was one of only 11 states to outscore the test average and the national average. While they didn’t perform quite as well in science, our fourth- and eighth-grade students outscored the test average but not the national average. These students were not just a hand-selected group of smart kids but a sampling of 1,800 fourth graders from 46 schools and 2,100 eighth graders from 59 schools, chosen to ensure diversity.

Three reactions follow this announcement. The first is the reaffirmation that our kids are all right. They are as capable of learning as any in the world, and these improved test scores are a result of higher expectations placed on them. They will never achieve more than we expect them to achieve.

But the students did not attain these scores alone. Let us acknowledge and appreciate our schools. These improved scores also reflect the greater demands and expectations we have placed on teachers and principals. We have made it clear we want nothing less than a world-class teacher and learning environment in every classroom and can see evidence that is paying off.

But while these increased demands on students and educators can help raise the achievement bar higher, they alone will not take us to the top. North Carolina is a diverse state and some students come to our schools better prepared and with more support than others. Sometimes we have allowed this understanding to become an excuse to accept lower performance and, in far too many instances, we have allowed our classrooms to teach to those lower performers. We do our children and our future a great disservice to allow this; many students aren’t sufficiently challenged and a growing number of parents respond by taking their children out of public school.

We need to speak truth. The responsibility for learning is not just on the students and educators. Too many parents are failing their children’s future because they either don’t understand or are not able to provide the environment necessary to help their child succeed in the classroom. Test scores affirm this to be especially true in lower socioeconomic and minority households.

We need a culture change, especially within these communities. Churches, neighborhood groups, PTAs and concerned citizens need to constantly reinforce the message that learning is important and doing less than one’s best isn’t acceptable. Parents need to know and constantly hear we have higher expectations from them. But when we see evidence parents are not rising to those higher expectations, we must step in to support the student.

If North Carolina wants to outscore other states and other countries, we must recognize these outcomes require more than just the student, more than the teacher and principal and sometimes more than a parent. It truly does take a village.

Tom Campbell is former assistant North Carolina state treasurer and is creator/host of “NC Spin,” a weekly statewide television discussion of North Carolina issues airing Sundays at 6:30 a.m. on WRAL-TV and at 8:30 a.m. on WRAZ-TV FOX50. Contact him at www.ncspin.com.