Proposal sparks questions

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 27, 2005

WINDSOR – Citizens flooded the podium with their comments here Monday night at Bertie High School.

In the fifth of six statewide public hearings on the new high school exit standards, approved earlier last year by the North Carolina State Board of Education, parents, teachers, principals and other administrators shared their concerns and posed questions for the board to consider as they plot out the details for the new framework.

The comments came after a presentation by the NC Department of Public Instruction (DPI) that outlined the application of a dual component structure that would require students to complete four, possibly five, End Of Course (EOC) tests in addition to a senior project before being allowed to graduate, beginning with the class of 2010.

Although citizens applauded the division’s vision to prepare students for successful careers in the workforce following graduation, an overwhelming concern was expressed over whether students already struggling through the existing requirements would be able to meet the new standard.

&uot;What are we going to do about students who don’t have the support they need at home,&uot; asked veteran educator Gill Burr, concerned about the possibility of increased drop out rates due to discouragement.

&uot;One size doesn’t fit all,&uot; he said, referencing the new structure. &uot;We need a plan that is broad enough to do everyone good.&uot;

Eddie Ingram, Principal of Currituck County High School, echoed Burr’s sentiments. &uot;I agree with raising the standards of education, but one size does not fit all.&uot;

Identifying with the struggles of rural schools in attracting and retaining qualified teachers, Ingram cited teacher choice as one of the unintended consequences of No Child Left Behind and ABC.

&uot;Highly qualified teachers can choose where they work,&uot; he said, noting that rural areas were often precluded. &uot;We need to improve teacher quality, flexibility and certification. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that good teachers always get good results, but poor teachers never get good results.&uot;

Jerry Byrum, father of two high school aged students, expressed his thoughts about the impact of requiring students to pass EOC exams. &uot;I think it would be a grave disservice for all kids,&uot; he said, using his kids as an example. &uot;My son doesn’t test well, but he still had approximately the same GPA as my daughter when she was a sophomore. Does that mean he doesn’t deserve to graduate from high school?&uot;

Byrum, who is also an educator, said he felt his children were fortunate to have parents who were both teachers, but questioned what would become of kids without that advantage.

&uot;Some kids are struggling to survive. They have home lives that are less than desirable and they never see their parents because they are either too busy working to support them or perhaps even drunk or strung out on drugs. What are you going to do about them,&uot; he asked.

Byrum suggested looking at more than just test scores and working towards helping to prepare kids to earn a living, stating that it wasn’t college-educated people who founded this nation.

&uot;I’m all for higher education standards, but we’re turning our high schools into a feeder for community colleges. We need to prepare our kids to make a living,&uot; Byrum noted.

Larry Murry, Assistant Principal of Northampton County High School-West, agreed stating that teachers are often faced with the challenge of reaching students from varied socio-economic backgrounds.

&uot;We have students from both extremes, ones who live in $300,000 homes on Lake Gaston and ones who live in the projects,&uot; he said. &uot;So, when you raise the bar, you have to think of the consequences. You can’t train all children the same way. What’s good for one may not be effective for all.&uot;

Tom Abbot, a part-time high school teacher in the Edenton-Chowan area and member of the NCSBE, suggested cultivating creativity by encouraging group efforts on the project so students could benefit from the synthesis of ideas.

&uot;In the 21st century, we ought to be looking at more open ended ways for students to demonstrate the application of learned skills,&uot; he said. &uot;Creativity has nothing to do with test-taking. We can have certain academic standards, but this framework has no prescription for kids who are hands on and I don’t think we should penalize them with a close-ended system. Test-taking is only a small component of what we need to be doing.&uot;

Other concerns included an added burden on the English departments.

&uot;Over the years, English IV has taken on a life of its own,&uot; said educator John Williams, referencing a progressive reduction of time spent on grammar and other technical aspects of the language.

Many argued that teachers and students are already overwhelmed with existing requirements and encouraged the board to consider making the senior project separate from English IV.

&uot;We’ve already seen a 25 percent decrease in the time spent on teaching English itself,&uot; said Burr. &uot;And in the schools that employ senior projects, we are finding that it is consuming approximately 50 percent of the time that would normally be used to cover existing curriculum requirements.&uot;

&uot;If the senior project is that important, why don’t we make it a school project and spread it out over a four-year period rather than saddling English teachers with the responsibility,&uot; Ingram asked.

Connie Burgess, an employee of Gates County Public Schools, agreed, stating that the senior project would likely conflict with existing assignments.

&uot;You can’t build a relationship with students when you’re doing the job of 10 people,&uot; said Geneva Squire, a teacher with Northampton County Public Schools, referring to the effects of cuts in funding from the state.

&uot;There are a lot of holes in this framework and waving a magic testing wand is not going to work,&uot; she said.

&uot;Most ninth grade students aren’t dropping out because they don’t understand the required work. They are professional freshman, but they can’t pass the tests. We’re doing the best we can with what we have, but when state assistance teams can’t help, there’s a problem,&uot; she said.

Squire also spoke to another situation. &uot;I don’t know if this is true or not, but I’ve heard that there are teachers who have taken similar exams and haven’t been able to pass even though they have degrees in the subject, yet they can teach with all their heart. This framework threatens to block people who are doing a great job simply because they can’t pass a test.&uot;

Citizens also questioned the source of funding for focused intervention as well as the manpower needed to perform the retesting under the respective proposals.

&uot;With all due respect, I object to this framework,&uot; said 27-year teaching veteran Jerry Furman. &uot;I’ve never seen anything that bothers me personally in my career than these standards.&uot;

Furman implored NCSBE members to &uot;get in the schools and see&uot; what is already being done.

&uot;We have students that are working their tails off and I think we’re doing very well in proficiency,&uot; he said, citing the board for its lack of foresight and failure to obtain input prior to approving the framework.

Furman said he was both surprised and appalled at methods the board was presenting and referred to its efforts as counterproductive.

&uot;You talk about the high number of dropouts, yet you have this Alice in Wonderland strategy for decreasing the instance of them. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t care about these kids and I applaud you for your vision, but who’s going to pay for the retesting and remediation? It’s like it’s a done deal.&uot;

Mike Warren, a Principal in Currituck County, agreed the program needed &uot;tweaking,&uot; but affirmed the need for increasing the performance level of students across the state.

&uot;Kids will jump as high as you ask them to,&uot; he said. &uot;If we don’t raise the bar, our kids will not be able to compete in the international market.&uot;

He continued, &uot;As it stands right now, just based on degrees, we can’t compete with China. If we don’t increase these standards, our country will not be what it once was and what we’re getting right now is simply not good enough.&uot;

Members of the NCSBE will take comments from this and the other public hearings into consideration in its February 3 meeting, prior to a final vote scheduled to take place sometime in April.

Proposals can be viewed online at: standards/.

Citizens are encouraged to enter their comments online at: