House Bill 377 could bring major changes to the way North Carolina’s school children are tested

A bill to reduce the number of state and local tests taken by North Carolina school children has received a favorable hearing from the House Education Committee.

House Bill 377 would do away with end-of-grade tests in grades 3-8 and replace them with shorter “through-grade assessments” three times per year, lasting about 90 minutes each.

Educators complain that it can sometimes take a student four to-five-hours to complete an end-of-grade test.

The new assessments would be similar to North Carolina Check-Ins developed by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. They’re currently being used by several school districts as part of a State Board of Education pilot program.

“The teachers that are using these [N.C. Check-Ins] are very pleased,” said Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, (R-Alexander), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said Tuesday during the committee meeting.

The bill would replace high school end-of-course exams with the “ACT or other nationally recognized assessment of high school achievement and college readiness.”

It would also eliminate N.C. Final Exams, the ACT WorkKeys for students pursuing career and technical educations and prohibit graduation projects as a condition of graduation.

“I find this an equity issue,” Elmore said, referring to graduation projects.

He said such projects can be costly and place poor students at a great disadvantage.

“I don’t think that’s a healthy practice because we can’t guarantee what is happening because it’s not taking place during the school day,” Elmore said. “To me that is an equity issue and I believe that practice should be eliminated statewide.”

Rep Kevin Corbin, (R-Cherokee), said he supports HB 377, but is concerned about the provision prohibiting graduation projects.

Corbin said he’s judged graduation projects and helped students complete them.

“I’ve seen kids who obviously didn’t have a lot who’ve done a lot with not much and that’s been part of the learning process,” Corbin said. “That’s the only time a lot of these kids will ever work on a project from front to end and actually start out with a goal an accomplish that.”

In addition to Elmore, Rep. Kyle Hall, (R-Rockingham) John Bell, (R-Greene) and Debra Conrad, (R-Forsyth) co-sponsored the bill. It will now go to the House Rules Committee.

At a press conference following the House Education Committee meeting, Elmore said HB 377 is a response to widespread concerns about excessive testing.

“There’s cries from teachers, parents, students themselves that there’s a need to reduce high-stakes testing,” Elmore said. “We have to do what the Feds [Federal Government] require, that’s above our pay grade, so what this bill does is streamline our testing process to make sure that we’re meeting the federal requirement but reduce many tests that can be seen as unnecessary.”

Rep. Craig Horn, (R-Union), said excessive testing is a perennial topic for parents, educators and lawmakers.

“Everybody agrees we need to reduce testing,” Horn said. “We’ve talked a lot about it, it’s about time we actually did something about it.”

Excessive testing in North Carolina’s schools has been a hot topic in recent weeks.

Noted educational policy analyst Diane Ravitch was the featured speaker at an event hosted by N.C. Families for School Testing Reform (NCFFSTR), Save our Schools NC and Jen Mangrum, a candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Ravitch, speaking via Skype, said Federal and state leaders have given too much weight to standardized tests.

“The appropriate use of testing is diagnostic,” Ravitch said. “Tests today have no diagnostic value whatsoever, so standardized testing is being totally misused to judge everybody for accountability purposes and it’s not supposed to be used that way.”

Teachers attending the event talked about the impact excessive testing has on students.

“I teach at a school that is low-performing, and last year was my first year there, and we got our test scores and we gave them to our students, it was the worst day of my teaching career,” Wake County teacher Meredith Pinckney said. “We had students standing in the hallway sobbing because they’d gotten 1s and they felt like they were inadequate.”

In a statement, NCFFSTR said the approach outlined in HB 377 “fails to address any other aspect of testing, such as the quality or appropriateness of the tests that are used; nor does it release children from the burden of producing scores for purposes other than to inform their own education.”

The group said meaningful change can only occur through thoughtful collaboration between teachers, policymakers and specialists in child development and instruction.

“Ideally, testing policy would be steered by a permanent state entity insulated from political turnover and thus able to engage in robust long-term planning. Our state needs to start now on the likely decade-long task of blending federal testing requirements with the best plan for the education and welfare of North Carolina’s children. If education leaders put children first, reduced testing would come as a natural consequence of giving teachers and students all they need — and nothing more.”

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