Last week was National Telecommunicator's Week, honoring those men and women who balance a telephone in opne hand and a microphone in the other, all the while staring at a constantly changing computer screen. In a world where it's okay to show extremes of emotion, these are the folks who have to keep their cool and not panic, no matter what happens.
The federal government ranks E-911 operators near the top when it comes to job stress, with good reason. They are responsible for knowing which agency to send to what event, whether it be an auto accident, a housefire or a robbery.
These are the people who must reassure a sometime hysterical or injured citizen that help really is on the way, especially when a few minutes seems to drag out into hours.
These are the people who sometimes have to decipher what a frightened child or a frightened senior citizen actually needs. For that matter, even a healthy person of working age can be more than a little unclear when their life, home or property is in danger.
But they push on, knowing what is riding on the telecommunicator's ability to make fast, accurate decisions where a person's life may be in jeopardy.
And while a fire department might get a tearful thank you, or a sheriff's deputy might get a handshake, oftentimes the people on the radio are nothing more than disembodied voices who helped get he fire department or deputy or policeman or EMT to your home.
To all the telecommunicators out there, but especially the ones here in Bladen County, we say thanks, and congratuilate you for a job well done.
ed to refocus our efforts to ensure North Carolina's standards are clear, concise, measurable, and grade-appropriate.
The second component, the quality of assessments, must also be tackled. The question "Is this a good test?" must be answered. In North Carolina, we develop, sample and verify the tests we use to measure student progress each year. Do we really have to reinvent the wheel? I don't think so. Even after serving on the state's Standards and Accountability Committee, which advised the State Board of Education on these issues, I never came across and worthy reason.
There are several achievement tests that are produced by testing companies which are well-liked, valid, and norm-referenced so comparisons can be made to students across the country. These assessments also cover additional subjects, including science and social studies that would be advantageous for our state to test. Adopting such "off the shelf" tests would also give schools seeking to pursue innovative educational strategies, such as district-run magnets and charters, the freedom to do so.
The last component, proficiency, simply poses the question: "If we continue to create our own state tests, where should we set the cutoff scores?" The proficiency level must be a first-rate guide of what needs to be expected of every student. On last year's math proficiency exam, our fifth-graders were required to answer only 28 percent of all questions correctly to be proficient. This fiasco demonstrated that our state does not always measure proficiency properly and begs the question of whether states should create their own tests.
For assessments to meet the intended purpose, they must give parents and teachers a guide to measure students' strengths and weaknesses in various subjects. The assessments then become not only an accountability instrument, but also a tool for further academic preparation. We must ask whether our education system is setting the bar too low for our children.
Standards and assessments are here to stay; the challenge of the future will be "what standards" and "what assessments?" For those of us concerned about educational equity, closing the gap, and high achievement, we must strive to ensure our public school system requires high standards and honestly measures proficiency through quality assessments.
(Lindalyn Kakadelis is director of the North Carolina Education Alliance and a former member of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education.)