STUDENTS PREPARE FOR STATEWIDE STANDARDS; EDUCATORS SEE INCREASED INVOLVEMENT AND GREATER FOCUS
Fifth grade classes across the state are wrapping up last minute preparations as they get ready to officially kick off statewide Student Accountability Standards. For many students, the new standards are already making a positive difference.
Student Accountability Standards, approved by the State Board of Education in April 1999, require that students in the third, fifth and eighth grades demonstrate grade-level proficiency in order to be promoted. The fifth grade is the first grade to be affected. Third and eighth graders are affected for the first time in 2001-02. High school students currently must pass computer skills tests and an exit exam (graduating class of 2005) in order to receive a diploma. The standards were put in place to ensure that students have the skills necessary to succeed at the next grade level, in higher education or in the workplace. A number of school systems have gone beyond state standards by requiring that all students in grades 3 - 8 demonstrate proficiency before being promoted.
North Carolina's accountability program, the ABCs of Public Education, has received national acclaim by both former President Bill Clinton and current President George W. Bush for increased student achievement and assistance to struggling schools. Education Week, in its annual 50-state Report Card, has consistently given the state high grades on Standards and Accountability. While the new standards have received a large amount of attention, they have also spurred positive changes in local school systems.
Pitt County Schools Director of K-8 Instruction Mary Arnold said that she has seen a significant increase in communication between schools and parents as a result of the standards. "Parents are truly paying attention to what their children are learning and talking with their child's teacher about the learning process in general. Many of our teachers discuss learning strategies that parents can use at home to support their children. Parents have truly become partners in their child's education," Arnold said.
Arnold also sees early intervention as a positive benefit of the standards. "When our K-2 teachers do their student assessments, they check to see that each child has the skills he or she needs to be successful at the next grade level. If they don't have a particular skill mastered, they immediately develop an intervention plan to address that weakness. The standards have really focused our attention on the early grades as never before."
Buncombe County Schools Assistant Superintendent Bobbie Short agrees parents have truly become partners in their child's education and sees the Personalized Education Plans, which are developed to address a student's weaknesses, as a prime example. "When a teacher develops a student's Personalized Education Plan, parents participate in the process serving as co-authors. Parents now help the teacher develop effective strategies for their child and support those strategies at home," Short said. Short feels that the statewide standards have allowed everyone - educators, parents and students - to be more attuned to the Standard Course of Study and its goals and strategies.
Moore County Schools also has experienced increased community involvement in schools as a result of statewide standards. Recently the school system sponsored a "hand-in-hand faith breakfast" to discuss how to expand school - church partnerships to provide after-school tutoring programs for struggling students. Anita Alpenfels, director of Public Information and Community Services for Moore County Schools, said that two church-school partnerships already exist and have been very successful. "Teachers at these schools met with members of the congregation and taught them various reading strategies that they could in turn use with students. Prior to this training, the volunteers were having mixed results in their ability to help students. Now that they have received training, the progress students are making is remarkable."
For more information on the state's Student Accountability Standards, please go to DPI's Web site, www.ncpublicschools.org, and look under "What's Going On." Many local school districts' standards also are available at this location.
About the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction:
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provides leadership to 115 local public school districts and 126 charter schools serving over 1.5 million students in kindergarten through high school graduation. The agency is responsible for all aspects of the state's public school system and works under the direction of the North Carolina State Board of Education.
For more information:
NCDPI Communication and Information Division, 919.807.3450.