State officials say they're pleased that despite the move to more rigorous North Carolina Competency Tests, about 9 in 10 students by grade 11 are meeting this standard as required for high school graduation.
State Superintendent Mike Ward said, "Even though we've raised the bar, schools and students are meeting this more rigorous challenge for the most part. That's really excellent news. The fact that higher percentages of students are passing a harder test is due in some part to a renewed emphasis on the basics, reading and mathematics."
Mildred Bazemore, testing chief in the NC Department of Public Instruction's Accountability Services Division, reported that the latest results, for the 1996-97 school year, show 90.3 percent of 11th-grade students met the NC competency standard in reading and mathematics, meaning they reached achievement levels III or IV (on a I-IV scale) on both the reading and mathematics tests. The previous year, that figure was 82 percent. The latest report also shows 84.3 percent of 10th-graders passing the tests. A comparison to the previous year's results in that category would not be appropriate, according to testing officials, because the data were not collected in a comparable manner.
Students in North Carolina have to pass the tests to receive their diploma, but they have several chances to take the test each year starting in eighth grade.
Bazemore explained that the State Board of Education in 1995 boosted this standard for high school graduation because of concerns that students were graduating from high school without the fundamental reading and mathematics skills they needed to be successful. The old competency test standard was instituted with the class of 1981 and required a lower level of achievement. The new standard applies beginning with the Class of 1998, last year's juniors in these latest results.
Despite the good news of 9 in 10 students passing the test, Bazemore noted there are still some disparities in performance among school districts and ethnic groups.
Dr. Ward also said he'd like to see a higher number of students passing the tests at lower grade levels. "We'd like to see more students reach that bar by the end of eighth grade," he said. "As we start to see more payoff with The ABCs of Public Education, and its emphasis on the basics of reading and mathematics, I think we'll start to see more of that happening."
For more information, contact Mildred Bazemore at DPI, 919/715-1182, or local school districts.