Raising the bar

November 22, 2013

The first thing you need to understand about the recently released test scores for North Carolina’s public schools is, well, how to understand the test scores.

Unfortunately, few people can solve that Rubik’s Cube.

North Carolina, since the adoption of the now extinct ABCs of education in the mid-1990s, has been aggressive in trying to grade our public schools so that parents can understand how their children’s stack up with others across the state. The idea is that information can be used by parents to make sure their children are not being shortchanged in the classroom.

But the goalposts have been continually moved and, we worry, too few parents really understand the information that is being provided, negating its value.

Before the recent release of test scores in North Carolina, there was a determined PR campaign, but on the state level and the county level, to lower expectations so to soften the blow. The reason was simple: The new methodology, approved by the state Board of Education, raises standards that determine grade-level proficiency and how prepared students are to enter college or a career. More rigorous standards obviously meant a lower percentage of students were deemed proficient.

So school officials, both across the state and locally, cautioned parents against using this year’s results and comparing them with last year’s. And recently, Bladen County Schools Sup’t. Robert Taylor shared his expectations in a guest column on this page — which basically raised a red flag for members of the Board of Education, parents and the public in general.

The best approach is to consider this year’s results as a baseline, one that can be used next year to see if our schools are trending upward, not sideways or downward.

We endorse the state Board of Education’s decision to raise the standards, believing that our children will rise to the challenge. That approach, rather than the alternative of rewarding students who don’t make the effort — all but assuring them of a life ill-prepared for the rough-and-tumble real world — thankfully asks more from our students, which is the best way to get it.