Schools to face tougher standards

pseligson@newsobserver.comOctober 18, 2013 

Johnston County’s public schools are preparing for new testing standards to align with a new curriculum.

Going forward, North Carolina will grade its schools not only on how well students perform on year-end tests but also on how much students grow academically from year to year.

“Our grading of schools has always been on performance and proficiency,” said Rodney Peterson, chief academic officer. “Now two measures, a proficiency side and a growth side.”

Essentially, North Carolina wants to see test scores climb from year to year.

“The growth side is going to tell the job we’re doing,” Peterson said. “If you get the growth measured, proficiency will come.”

The new standards will bring testing in line with the new curriculum – called Common Core for English, language arts and math and N.C. Essential Standards for science and social studies, said Hannah Youngblood, executive director of accountability and school improvement.

Johnston students took the new tests for the first time in the 2012-2013 school year, Youngblood said. The state will release those scores in November, she said.

Earlier this month, Johnston Superintendent Ed Croom told school board members to expect lower scores with the new tests. That invariably happens when a curriculum changes, he said.

“It’s completely different, brand-new tests,” Croom said. “The number that you see next month is no comparison to what we’ve had in the past.”

“The scores come out, they’re going to be very low, because … in our minds, we compare last year’s tests to this year’s tests. You can’t compare them,” he said.

The state will use the first-year test scores as a benchmark, and it won’t punish low-scoring schools, said Croom, who expects test scores to rise over time.

County preschool

The county’s preschool system is growing and needs more classrooms, school board members learned at their meeting this month.

“We’re out of space,” said Kelly Pleasant, director of the county’s preschool program. “Twenty five classrooms within 18 elementary schools, a lot of those are full.”

Pleasant said she is looking at mobile classrooms and a gutted bus to find more space for playgroups.

Johnston has 950 students in its preschool program, which is for children ages 3-5 who are either poor or learning disabled. The idea behind preschool, mandated by federal law, is to prepare those children for kindergarten.

“Think about the number of children who come to our schools for kindergarten who are not prepared for kindergarten,” Croom said.

As North Carolina implements a tougher curriculum, children must come to school ready to learn, Croom said. “It’s going to be extremely important that we help prepare the way for these children,” he said.

Pleasant agreed, adding that the state will expect its preschool programs to perform as well as its K-12 schools.

“We are seeing that same accountability come down to preschool,” she said. “When I started this 18 years ago, it was more about play and focusing on a child’s development, but definitely the accountability piece was not as prevalent.”

PowerSchool problems

Finally this month, the school board heard about more problems with PowerSchool, the new information-management system adopted by the state. Problems include teachers being unable to log in to the system, lists that pull in data from five years ago and a lack of technical support from the company.

“One day it will be wonderful, but it’s a long ways off,” Croom said. “Teachers frustrated, principals frustrated, this is just another thing that our administrators are having to deal with right now.”

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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