Commentary

Forcella: Raising the bar to meet tomorrow’s challenges

November 1, 2013 

Tom Forcella

CHAPEL HILL-CARRBORO CITY SCHOOLS

The state is scheduled to release the results from the 2012-13 End-of-Grade and End-of-Course tests on Nov. 7. We are expecting scores for all N.C. students, including those in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, to be lower this year. However, this is not cause for alarm. Allow me to explain.

Last year, North Carolina joined 45 other states in adopting the Common Core State Standards. These new standards are more rigorous than North Carolina’s earlier standards. As a result, student test scores overall are expected to drop the first year the new assessments are given.

The Common Core standards were developed at a grassroots level with teachers, educators, state legislators, school boards and business leaders to set a standard for what students should learn and be able to do in math and English/language arts from kindergarten through 12th grade.

These standards will help ensure that all students are able to read at a college level and have sufficient math prowess upon leaving high school to be successful in entry-level college coursework or high-skill jobs in the workforce. In the past, North Carolina’s proficiency standards only addressed what students needed for success at the next grade level.

With these changes now in place, we are prepared to see a lower percentage of proficient scores for our schools and the district when the test scores are released on Thursday. This is a normal pattern any time a state increases expectations for students.

However, I want to point out that these lower scores do not mean that our students know less or fell behind. They simply mean that the demands of the assessments and the scores required to reach proficiency have been set at a higher level.

Even though the tougher achievement standards will show fewer students meeting the mark, I want to assure you that our students did not lose ground in their learning this past year. Students continued to grow academically in 2012-13.

Change is never easy, but by making this change to the Common Core State Standards, we are helping to better prepare our students for success as they enter college and the workforce. The Common Core initiative is transforming the way our students learn and the way our teachers teach.

A partnership with the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute for Learning is providing our teachers and administrators with research-based curriculum, tools and professional development that will help support the improvement of education and achievement for all our students. Students are learning to think for themselves, how to problem solve and how to collaborate with others to solve problems. These are skills that will serve them well in their future endeavors.

We are fortunate in that our school district has enjoyed tremendous measurable success for years, however we recognize that no great organization stays great by resting on its accomplishments. That’s why we are embracing the changes that accompany this switch to the Common Core standards.

Just as in the high jump, when an athlete clears the bar, it must be raised. The athlete will miss the bar the first few tries but will eventually clear the higher bar until it is raised again.

It is our obligation as educators to continue to challenge our students to higher levels in order for them to be competitive upon graduation. So, rest assured – although we expect to see lower scores this year, the change in standards will mean that more of our students will be prepared for success in college and in their future careers.

Tom Forcella is the superintendent of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

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