Mel Riddile is the associate director for high school services at the National Association of Secondary School Principals. His work in turning around schools in Virginia earned him the 2006 MetLife/NASSP National High School Principal of the Year award. This is his first piece for the AJC Get Schooled blog
By Mel Riddile
To answer a couple of the education questions on the minds of Georgia citizens these days:
Yes, we can expect to see a significant drop in the first year of the new Georgia Performance Standards assessments.
No, the sky is not falling.
But the ground is shifting.
Previous Georgia standards and assessments aimed merely to validate a high school diploma. Nothing more.
The new Georgia Performance Standards, which incorporate the Common Core State Standards, call for a much higher level of student performance as indicators of college-and-career-readiness.
Georgia was one of the first states to adopt the new Common Core standards in English, language arts and math. In fact, the standards were rolled out in 2010 at Peachtree Ridge High School in Suwanee, reflective of the major role of former Gov. Sonny Perdue, a leader in the effort.
The standards are designed to provide teachers and parents with a common understanding of what students are expected to learn at each grade level.
Students will be taking new tests, calibrated to new, higher standards, and assessed on a new scale.
Factor in the short amount of time that Georgia students have been exposed to the GPS, and it becomes clear that the first round of scores should be considered not as a definitive summation of Georgia students’ abilities, but rather as a benchmark for gauging progress toward the standards.
While the results are imminent, we can choose how to react to them. Officials in many of the 45 other states that have adopted higher standards are anticipating that an initial wave of lower scores will give way to higher student performance in the future.
Kentucky, for example, pre-empted the drama months before scores were even available. Kentucky State Education Commissioner Terry Holliday delivered a consistent message that, as he predicted to Education Week, “scores would drop because students taking K-PREP [the new Kentucky assessments] now have to deal with longer, nonfiction reading passages, for example, and exhibit greater ‘technical fluency’ in their comprehension skills.”
My conversations with principals in Kentucky confirm that the message penetrated local communities, and while the nation gasped at the first round of K-PREP results, the state itself steeled for the drop and maintained its focus on improving student performance.
Florida assessments generated similar results, but the reaction was somewhat different. Horrified by the mere 27 percent proficiency rating fourth-graders, the state Board of Education called an emergency meeting, at which they decided to shift the proficiency scale so a much more comfortable 81 percent of students were proficient.
As one parent told the Wall Street Journal, “It calls into question the veracity of the entire enterprise.” Indeed. And worse, it robs Florida students of rigor and authentic assessment.
Of course, reactions will be dictated by agendas. Georgia is one of several states that recently made it easier for for-profit education providers to tap public education funds.
Those providers have a lot to gain from perpetuating the “failing public schools” narrative. Going into the assessments with clear expectations will neutralize those agendas and help us lock our focus where it really matters: Student learning.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog