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Testing reform group condemns in-person testing mandate for high school students

In-person end-of-course testing mandated by state and federal law will place students and families at risk of contracting the coronavirus, a North Carolina testing reform group warns.

NC Families for School Testing Reform (NCFSTR)  started a petition on Change.org asking that high school End-of Course  (EOCs) exams in Math 1, Math 3, English 2, and Biology and Career and Technical Education assessments be waived for the fall 2020 semester.

The petition directs the request to North Carolina lawmakers, including Gov. Roy Cooper, State Board of Education Chairman Eric Davis and State Superintendent Mark Johnson. It had nearly 1,000 signatures early Thursday.

The group also requests that the state ask the U.S. Department of Education to waive in-person testing requirements associated with EOC exams and other federally mandated, standardized tests.

“Bringing children back into buildings as COVID-19 cases continue to rise demonstrates a violation of public schools’ obligation to protect and act in the best interest of children,” the group said in the petition.

NCFSTR wants the state to also waive the provision that EOC exams account for 20% of a student’s grade if a full waiver isn’t granted.

“This year, our high school students have worked under challenging circumstances and without equitable access to resources,” the petition says. “Students and families require flexibility as we continue to grapple with the realities of this public health crisis.”

The group said that forcing students to take in-person exams is unnecessary and will prove traumatic for those who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 or have siblings or other household members at high risk of becoming sick or dying if they contract the disease.

“Now imagine being faced with the impossible choice to either fail your classes by choosing safety or go into an environment that puts you or your family at risk,” the group said. “Forcing students to choose between failing a high school class and entering a high-risk situation is a trauma that we can choose not to inflict.”

Educators are sharing the petition on social media.

“Teaching looks different. Learning looks different. And many of our kids are just trying to survive. Yet our government still expects our students to take (and either grow or be proficient) our state exams,” Tiffany Kilgore, president of the Wayne County Association of Educators wrote in a Facebook post.

The tests are biased and are used to reinforce the narrative that public schools are failing children, Kilgore added.

“Testing now when our families and communities are struggling is against everything we know as sound practice,” Kilgore said.

The petition comes as the state experiences significant upticks in coronavirus infections and hospitalizations.

Kevin Taylor, a Stanly County parent and college professor, says the tests aren’t worth risking the health of a child or family member.

“It makes you feel like our government is trying to kill us,” Taylor said in an interview Wednesday. “I don’t mean to be too graphic but it’s hard to imagine that any test is worth families and grandparents potentially getting the disease.”

Families can refuse testing but students would be penalized because they  account for 20% of their semester grade.

Chelsea Bartel, an NCFST organizer, said it’s critical that lawmakers come up with a solutions before testing begins early next month.

“For us, it’s not just black and white,” Bartel said. “We’re looking for any creative problem solving, something for all the families, especially those who elected fully virtual and are now going to be asked to send their kids anyway.”

At the same time educators are discussing the wisdom of bringing high school students back to school buildings for testing, some school districts are making plans for students to return to classrooms for in-person instruction.

Elementary school students in many districts have already returned to classrooms for some in-person instruction.

The Wake County Board of Education approved a plan this week that brings back older students for some in-person instruction for the spring semester. Wake County’s elementary schools returned to daily in-person classes on Monday.

In Durham, the school board will consider a plan today to bring back some younger students for in-person classes in January. Some older students would return to school buildings in February under the plan.

The testing reform group said that requiring older students to return to school buildings for tests contradicts the advice of state health officials who shared that adolescents contract and spread the coronavirus at the same rate as adults.

State health officials reported earlier this month that school re-openings for in-person instruction aren’t big drivers of spikes in coronavirus cases.

In an interview this week with CNN, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, urged school system leaders to “try as best as possible” to keep schools open.

“But you’ve got to have not one size fits all,” Fauci said. “You’ve got to take a look at what’s going on in the particular location where you’re at, but we should be trying to keep the children in schools as safely as we can. [That means] getting resources to the schools to allow them to do things while keeping it open, maybe in a hybrid fashion; maybe in doing some physical separation; maybe alternating classes in certain ways. I don’t want to dictate that from here to the schools because I’m not there but do what you can to keep the children and teachers safe but try as best as possible to keep the schools open.”

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