Grading North Carolina

, Lindalyn Kakadelis, Leave a comment

SAT scores for 2006 were released this week, sounding off yet more alarms about high school performance. Nationally, SAT scores dropped by an average of 7 points – the sharpest decline in 31 years.

Here at home, lower scores were met with some really mind-bending spin. North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction, gleeful that state scores dropped only 2 points (instead of 7 nationally), issued a news release crowing, “North Carolina students continued to close the gap between the state and the national average scores on the SAT college entrance exam.” Scores are falling and that’s a good thing? Since when did the SAT become a race to the bottom?

The College Board, owner of the SAT, attributed lower scores to the fact that a new test was given in 2006 and fewer students opted to take it twice (apparently, a second shot at the test can bump scores up by about 30 points or so). Lower scores couldn’t have anything to do with inadequate high school preparation, could they?

Fortunately, not everyone is in denial. Assorted independent organizations across the country saw the light a while ago and have been calling for reforms at the high school level ever since. In 2004-05, the National Governors Association published An Action Agenda for Improving America’s High Schools, stating that, “the need for action has never been more clear or urgent.”

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has poured millions of dollars into high school reform, stating, “the failure of U. S. high schools to adequately prepare young people for college or work is too big to ignore.” And Education Trust has released numerous reports addressing the lack of rigor and achievement at the high school level. Even here in North Carolina, Leandro‘s Judge Manning has focused his efforts on shaping up state high schools.

A new report released this week by the Fordham Foundation may shed some light on why adolescents aren’t learning. The State of State Standards 2006 reviewed state expectations subject by subject and found that, on the whole, academic standards are pretty lax. According to this study, 26 states earned an overall grade of “D” or “F” for their standards; the average score across the country was a “C-“. North Carolina’s Standard Course of Study didn’t fare any better, earning an average score of “C-“ (.pdf), down from a B- in 2000. North Carolina earned an “F” for both U.S. and World History.

If SAT scores and troubled high schools are any indication, our faltering standards and low expectations aren’t doing us any good. As publisher Malcolm S. Forbes once quipped, “If you expect nothing, you’re apt to be surprised. You’ll get it.” We have nothing to lose by expecting a whole lot more from students. And we just might get it.

Lindalyn Kakadelis is the director of the North Carolina Education Alliance.