Editorial: Can students make up lost ground?

November 15, 2013 

North Carolina school leaders warned us that a new curriculum would yield lower scores on tests based on that curriculum. They weren’t kidding. In Johnston County, just 43.3 percent of students finished last school year at or above grade level.

After releasing the test scores earlier this month, those same school leaders promised us that scores will rise next year, and we suspect they’re right. As teachers and students adjust to the new curriculum, students will perform better on the year-end tests.

But what we want to know is what the schools plan to do for those thousands of students the new curriculum left behind this past school year. As noted above, just 43.3 percent of Johnston students were at or above grade level at the end of the 2012-13 school year. And at some individual schools, the passing rate was much lower than that. At West Smithfield Elementary School, for example, just 21.3 percent of students were at or above grade level at the end of last school year. That means 78.7 percent of West Smithfield students got left behind by the new curriculum.

How did – or will – the schools help those students catch up so they have a chance to enter next year’s testing with a shot at passing? Did the schools retain more students this past year so they could make up ground? Did they require more students to attend summer school or at least invite more to attend? Or maybe the schools began this year with remediation designed to close the achievement gap. Or maybe remediation will be ongoing throughout this school year.

In an email this week, we asked these questions of Johnston school leaders. No, they did not retain more students or require more to attend summer school, because the test results were not available until this month. But the schools are examining the testing data to see where they need to enrich the curriculum and step up teacher training. Also, the schools have already put in place academic plans to ensure student success this school year, according to spokeswoman Tracey Peedin-Jones.

We wish the schools godspeed in examining the testing data and then taking steps to better teach the new curriculum. The longer that task takes, the greater the chance that students who struggled this past year will struggle going forward to reach grade level.

Parents can accept that their children struggled to master a new curriculum in its first year. But they have every right to expect the schools to help their children cover the ground they failed to gain as North Carolina implemented a new curriculum

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