Bill would over­haul test­ing de­mands for NC stu­dents

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Local - BY T. KEUNG HUI [email protected]­sob­ T. Keung Hui: 919- 829- 4534, @nck­hui

State law­mak­ers could over­haul the way North Carolina’s pub­lic school stu­dents are tested, re­sult­ing in fewer ex­ams be­ing given by the state and lo­cal school districts.

A newly filed bill spon­sored by some key Repub­li­can law­mak­ers would elim­i­nate and/or re­place some state-man­dated ex­ams and re­quire school districts to re­duce the num­ber of tests they give. House Bill 377 is giv­ing hope to some par­ents and teach­ers that it will ad­dress at least some of their con­cerns that the state is overtest­ing stu­dents with high-stakes stan­dard­ized ex­ams.

“We’re re­ally ex­cited about it as far as what we’re see­ing,” said Suzanne Miller, a Raleigh par­ent and a leader of the group N.C. Fam­i­lies For School Test­ing Re­form. “We cer­tainly have some ques­tions as well. Elim­i­nat­ing the EOGs (end-of-grade ex­ams) is cer­tainly some­thing we’re sup­port­ive of.”

Since at least the 1990s, par­ents, teach­ers, su­per­in­ten­dents and ed­u­ca­tion ad­vo­cacy groups have com­plained about the in­creased amount of test­ing. These tests in­flu­ence many things, in­clud­ing whether stu­dents are pro­moted to the next grade level, prin­ci­pal pay, teacher bonuses and let­ter grades that la­bel each pub­lic school as high- or low-per­form­ing.

Mika Twi­et­meyer, a bi­ol­ogy teacher at River­side High School in Durham, pointed to how the school dis­trict wants stu­dents to re­take the state end-of-course bi­ol­ogy exam if they didn’t pass it last se­mes­ter. But Twi­et­meyer said pass­ing won’t change the stu­dent’s grade and would only im­prove the school’s per- for­mance on the state re­port card.

“I am in sup­port of less test­ing to tell teach­ers things they al­ready know about their stu­dents,” said Twi­et­meyer, who is the Durham Pub­lic Schools’ 2019 Teacher of the Year. “I’m def­i­nitely against tests that districts buy from third par­ties, and I’m against tests that we make stu­dents take that aren’t show­ing them what they learned and aren’t show­ing them their growth.”

The state Depart­ment of Pub­lic In­struc­tion says 78 per­cent of the more than 42,000 par­ents who re­sponded to a Novem­ber sur­vey said their chil­dren take too many tests. State of­fi­cials also say that 76 per­cent of teach­ers have said that stu­dents are be­ing tested too much.

The com­plaints have led to State Schools Su­per­in­ten­dent Mark John­son an­nounc­ing some test­ing changes, in­clud­ing re­duc­ing the length of some state ex­ams.

But Rep. Jef­frey El­more, a Repub­li­can from Wilkes County, wants to go even fur­ther. El­more, co-chair­man of the House Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee, says the amount and length of tests be­ing given have turned the sys­tem into a “test of en­durance” for younger stu­dents.

“I don’t think any teacher would say that we should not test,” said El­more, an art teacher in the Wilkes County school sys­tem. “I hate us­ing metaphor, but we’re tak­ing a bazooka to an ant in try­ing to solve our as­sess­ments.”

El­more is one of four pri­mary spon­sors, all Repub­li­cans, for House Bill 377. The others are Reps. Kyle Hall of Stokes County, John Bell of Wayne County and De­bra Con­rad of Forsyth County.

The bill would: Re­place the state EOG ex­ams given in grades 3-8 in read­ing and math with the NC Check-Ins.

Elim­i­nate the re­main­ing state end-of-course (EOC) ex­ams for bi­ol­ogy, English and math typ­i­cally taken by high school stu­dents. They’d be re­placed by the ACT now taken by all of the state’s high school ju­niors or by a “na­tion­ally rec­og­nized as­sess­ment of high school achieve­ment and col­lege readi­ness.”

Elim­i­nate the ACT WorkKeys test in high school.

Elim­i­nate the N.C. Fi­nal ex­ams. These state tests are given to stu­dents of teach­ers who don’t have re­sults from an EOG or EOC that can be used to eval­u­ate their per­for­mance.

Pro­hibit school districts from giv­ing stan­dard­ized tests not re­quired by the State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion.

Pro­hibit school districts from re­quir­ing stu­dents to do a high school grad­u­a­tion pro­ject. The pro­ject in­volves stu­dents re­search­ing and writ­ing a pa­per on a topic that they’ve cho­sen and pre­sent­ing the pro­ject to a panel.

“If you do some­thing com­pre­hen­sive with the test­ing, you have to tar­get the lo­cal level be­cause if you don’t, they will build or cur­rently have a layer of test­ing that they will not pull away,” El­more said.


The bill is an en­cour­ag­ing sign that law­mak­ers rec­og­nize that the state has gone too far in the direc­tion of overtest­ing, ac­cord­ing to Keith Pos­ton, pres­i­dent of the Pub­lic School Fo­rum of North Carolina.

“It’s time to take a step and right-size them and strike a proper bal­ance be­tween ac­count­abil­ity and what we be­lieve is ram­pant overtest­ing, par­tic­u­larly high-stakes test­ing that we think is stress­ful for stu­dents and of ques­tion­able value for teach­ers,” Pos­ton said.

One of the most sig­nif­i­cant changes in the bill is the switch to the N.C. Check-Ins, a state pro­gram that’s cur­rently only vol­un­tary.

Un­der the Check-Ins, stu­dents take three tests each in read­ing and math dur­ing the school year. The Check-Ins are shorter than the end-of-grade ex­ams.

The bill would use the av­er­age of the com­bined scores from the fi­nal two Check-Ins for the state’s ac­count­abil­ity sys­tem. The state would have to de­velop a Check-In for third­grade read­ing and in sci­ence for 5th and 8th-grades.

“These shorter tests, I think, will give you a bet­ter, ac­cu­rate pic­ture of where the child’s at and the teacher can ac­tu­ally use the in­for­ma­tion from test 1 to test 2,” said El­more, the law­maker. “They can see what growth is made there and so at that last se­mes­ter see what gains they need to make, what ar­eas they need to work on.”

Justin Par­menter, a sev­enth-grade lan­guage arts teacher at Char­lotte-Meck­len­burg’s Wad­dell Lan­guage Academy, agreed that it would be bet­ter to use the Check­Ins in place of the end-of-grade ex­ams.

“This bill would be a step in the right direc­tion,” Par­menter said. “Right now we have a sin­gle, high-stress end-ofyear as­sess­ment which yields next to no use­ful data to help teach­ers plan in­struc­tion for their stu­dents.

“So mov­ing to­ward a sys­tem of for­ma­tive as­sess­ments which yield data on ex­actly which stan­dards stu­dents are miss­ing would be more use­ful.”


Hay­ley Row­ley, a third­grade teacher at Char- lotte-Meck­len­burg’s Re­nais­sance West STEAM Academy, says that teach­ers will need to be trained in how to in­ter­pret the data from the Check-Ins to get the most ben­e­fit. She also raised con­cerns about how the Check-Ins are “sub­ject to the whims of a 9-year-old’s com­pe­tency at tak­ing an en­tirely elec­tronic test, when some of them don’t even start the year with a firm grasp of how to write their name on the lines of note­book pa­per.”

“Over­all, I see the mer­its of re­con­sid­er­ing the way we mea­sure stu­dent progress, but this bill doesn’t seem to con­sider all the as­pects of real-life im­ple­men­ta­tion in class­rooms across our state,” Row­ley said.

Some crit­ics of high­stakes test­ing also say that the leg­is­la­tion doesn’t go far enough. Nan Fulcher, an Orange County par­ent and a leader of N.C. Fam­i­lies For School Test­ing Re­form, said that even while the bill has pos­i­tives it car­ries “much of the same bag­gage of the old sys­tem.”

El­more says those con­cerns can be po­ten­tially ad­dressed in other leg­is­la­tion. He said what the bill ac­com­plishes is re­duc­ing the amount of test­ing while still en­sur­ing school ac­count­abil­ity, meet­ing fed­eral reg­u­la­tions and re­quir­ing only mi­nor changes to the state’s school grad­ing sys­tem.

The bill is sched­uled to be heard at Tues­day’s meet­ing of the House Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee. It’s un­clear if there will be enough sup­port among law­mak­ers, par­tic­u­larly in the Se­nate, but El­more says he’s hope­ful.

“I think that you will have the will in the House to see this,” El­more said. “We’ll just have to see how far the Se­nate wants to take it.

“I feel like there are Sen­a­tors that are just like the gen­eral pub­lic that re­al­ize that we are test­ing too much and is it nec­es­sary to be test­ing at that level to get the in­for­ma­tion that we need?”

CHUCK BERMAN Chicago Tri­bune/TNS

A bill filed in the North Carolina Gen­eral Assem­bly would re­duce the num­ber of state and lo­cal tests given to pub­lic school stu­dents.

Rep. Jef­frey El­more

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