The new READY Accountability assessment of student progress, released for the first time, showed fewer than half the students in grade 3 and above scored in the proficient range on course-ending tests in reading, math, science and other topics. Only two tests out of 18 saw a majority of students rated proficient or better - eighth-grade science and high school English II.
A separate report released Thursday shows that North Carolina fourth- and eighth-graders are almost exactly at the national average in reading and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
The READY report for the 2012-13 school year replaces the ABCs of Public Education, which for 16 years tested the lesser goal of whether children were ready for the next grade.
"We know things are not where we want them to be," State Board of Education Chairman William Cobey said Thursday. "We do believe that we are in a position to see a steady upward climb in the coming years and it will be to globally competitive standards."
Performance results on standardized tests for schools and districts were available at the state Department of Public Instruction's website: http://www.dpi.state.nc.us. Local school districts have 30 days to send individual student scores to parents.
The report said seven out of 10 public schools met or exceeded academic growth expectations.
But student proficiency as measured by tests taken next spring will be the major factor in assigning new A-to-F grades to schools beginning next year, state schools Superintendent June Atkinson said.
State school officials have been indicating for weeks that they expected the data to show a much lower percentage of students considered proficient learners under the higher standards - even comparing the numbers to what might be expected with a minor-league baseball phenom's batting average once he faces tougher major-league competition.
"When we raise the expectations it doesn't mean students are not learning and that our teachers are not doing a great job," Atkinson said. "The reason for raising standards and raising our expectations is to be a part of the solution of making sure that students are ready for options once they leave us."
The READY report joins a host of other measures of how well North Carolina students are performing. High school graduation rates this year topped 82 percent, up from 70 percent six years ago. But almost two out of three 2012 high school graduates who went on to enroll in a state community college had to take at least one remedial course to cover necessary ground they didn't learn in secondary school, the community college system reported last month.
On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often called the nation's report card, just 35 percent of North Carolina's fourth-graders scored at or above the proficient level in reading. Forty-five percent of children that age were considered proficient in math. That compares to 35 percent reading proficiency by fourth-graders nationwide and 42 percent in math.
A third of North Carolina eighth-graders were proficient in reading as measured by the NAEP, and 36 percent hit that mark in math. That compares to 36 percent of eighth-graders scoring at or above the proficient level in reading nationwide and 35 percent in math.