SOME SCHOOL SYSTEMS GO BEYOND STATEWIDE PROMOTION STANDARDS
For a number of elementary and middle school students across the state, it doesn't matter what grade you're in - if you want to move on, you need to demonstrate that you can do the work. For educators at these schools, it's a policy they wholeheartedly support.
Transylvania County's promotion standards, which affect students in third through eighth grades, have been in effect since 1994-95 when teachers approached the local board of education concerned about their students' apathy toward school. Transylvania County Public Information Director Dian Brewton said teachers told the board that "they could work hard in the classroom and teach the goals of the Standard Course of Study, but they could not make a child want to attend school or take end-of-grade tests seriously." To ensure that end-of-grade tests accurately measured what children knew, the board decided to implement promotion standards at every grade level. "That first year, we had far fewer students in summer school than ever before," Brewton said. "Students knew they were expected to perform and, as a result, they worked harder and were more conscientious."
Brewton said that an added bonus to the county's policy is that teachers don't have to spend the first several weeks of the new school year remediating students but instead can concentrate on what they have to teach to ensure that their students are proficient when they leave the classroom.
Statewide 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. Fifth grade students are affected by the policy this year with third and eighth grade students affected next year. 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. The state set minimum standards and encouraged local school systems to exceed them. As evidenced by what is going on in Transylvania, Wake and Sampson Counties, a number of school systems have done just that by requiring that all students in grades 3 - 8 demonstrate proficiency before being promoted.
State and local Student Accountability Standards emphasize identifying struggling students and providing them with the intervention they need in order to succeed. Focused intervention and assistance to students who are not scoring at grade level is one of the main safeguards to student promotion standards. End-of-grade tests are a mechanism to alert teachers and parents that a child may not be ready to handle next year's school work. Passing students along who are not prepared to succeed cheats them of their education. This additional help provides students with an opportunity to be better prepared for the next grade.
Wake County Public Schools Associate Superintendent for Instructional Services Division Jo Baker agrees that it's important for students at all grade levels to be held accountable. "It's imperative for students to make continuous improvement at each grade level. You can't take a vacation at certain grade levels and believe that a child won't regress as a result," Baker said.
Baker said that Wake County school principals have assessment mechanisms in place that enable them to make good decisions in the best interest of their students. "We have a very strong K-3 math/literacy assessment program that gives students a solid academic foundation. Subsequent grade-level assessments ensure that the progress students are making continues and, if not, appropriate intervention takes place to get students back on track."
Sampson County Schools felt that children have a greater chance for success if standards affect every grade as opposed to a few. "It's important that you identify struggling students early and provide immediate intervention," Sampson County Schools' Director of Elementary and Middle School Education Carol Cossette said. "We don't want to wait until the fifth and eighth grades to address a student's weaknesses. You get a more complete picture of that student's capabilities if all the components are in place - not just pieces of it." Currently, the school system's promotion standards affect third, fifth and eighth grade students.
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.