Opinion: K-12 Update

Lindalyn’s Journal

Week of October 30, 2006

With only 4 days to go until the midterm elections, candidates across the country are heading into the home stretch. Here in North Carolina, voters are not electing a president, senator or governor; the only statewide election is for the State Supreme Court. As important as the State Supreme Court, North Carolina voters still have the weighty responsibility of electing members of the U.S. House of Representatives, the state General Assembly, and local county offices. In some counties, voters will also weigh in on school bond referenda, deciding whether to hike property taxes to pay for school construction.

The lower profile of this year’s election may cause some North Carolinians to stay home, but such a choice would be unfortunate indeed. The outcome of this election is critically important, particularly when it comes to public education. After all, many candidates around the state are running for the General Assembly – the legislative body responsible for crafting laws that affect our state’s K-12 schools. Once in office, these legislators wield considerable power to advocate for sensible education reforms or quash them.

Recent events at the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI) underscore the importance of electing legislators who support high standards and rigorous tests. Yesterday, state education officials were expected to announce results from the 2005-06 End-of-Grade math tests, “revamped” to reflect higher standards that are more in line with national norms. The new guidelines mark the first attempt in 10 years to raise standards for the ABCs school accountability program. Interestingly, the long-awaited media briefing was postponed until November 9th, conveniently scheduled after the election. However, preliminary results were posted later on DPI’s website. While some results were released, it’s not enough. Parents will still not receive any information regarding their child until after the election.

Many parents around the state will take a long hiatus from “joyful moments” thinking their child is proficient, when receiving the new testing results. But even then, can parents really trust the new, much-hyped standards? A recent report from the John Locke Foundation’s education policy analyst Terry Stoops, suggests the new standards can’t fix an accountability system that is beyond repair. According to Stoops, students were required to answer an average of 40.7 percent of test questions correctly (or 33 out of 80) to be classified as proficient on the 2004-05 EOGs. Following revisions to the 2005-06 test, students needed to answer an average of just 49.4 percent of questions correctly (or 25 out of 50) to be labeled proficient. Since when did getting half of the questions wrong on any test yield a passing grade? Does anyone at DPI really believe the spin that these are “high” standards? The secrecy surrounding these tests keeps parents and the public from actually knowing the rigor.

Forsyth County’s incumbent School Board Member, Buddy Collins, says it best. “I didn’t get very excited with the scores when they were high … because I knew they were wrong … and I am not going to be too disappointed when the scores are low … because I know they are just as wrong as the high scores … when accountability measurements are subject to manipulation for political and/or financial reasons, then we can never fully trust the results … I still don’t trust them.”

Clearly, the time has come for some sunlight and scrutiny. Members of the North Carolina General Assembly ought to force the state Board of Education to adopt a credible national achievement test, and soon. That way, parents will finally have access to meaningful information about student performance, enabling them to compare their kids to same-aged students across the U.S.

Fortunately, an election is right around the corner, leaving parents with plenty of recourse. Whatever your views, please make sure your voice is heard at the ballot box. Encourage your friends to vote, and let them know your thoughts about the issues. Check your county’s Board of Election to see where and when to vote. “No excuse, one-stop voting” continues Friday and Saturday, then the final day to vote is Tuesday. See you at the polls!