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Student testingReporter Lindsay Wagner has a fascinating story this afternoon over on the main Policy Watch website entitled: “Students, teachers grapple with Read to Achieve law.” It’s a behind-the-classroom-door look at the unnecessary pain being inflicted on North Carolina third graders and their teachers by Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger’s signature education initiative. This is from the article which features a Raleigh third grade teacher named Carla Tavares:

“While not required by the law, many school districts were reluctant to hinge the possibility of a third grader moving on to the fourth grade on his or her performance on a single test [a possibility under the new law], especially considering that North Carolina just adopted more rigorous standards and more difficult assessments based on those standards—meaning that even more students are likely to fail End of Grade tests than in years past.

So districts like Charlotte-Mecklenberg and Wake decided to begin administering portfolio assessments in the spring semester to all third graders who hadn’t already scored proficient in reading on their BOGs [Beginning of Grade tests].

With portfolio assessments, students must demonstrate mastery of the state’s 12 reading standards by successfully passing three tests of reading comprehension for each standard. That means students must pass 36 reading tests that take 30 minutes each to complete during the spring semester, in addition to other formative and summative assessments that already take place during the school year.

‘At least two of these kids are actually reading on grade level,’ said Tavares, who is administering portfolio assessments to about half of the kids in her class – the other half have already demonstrated proficiency. ‘But they’re not good test takers. They’re stressed out. They’re distracted. They’re exhausted.’

‘Some of my students are so tired of these exams, they aren’t even reading the passages anymore. They’re just circling answers and immediately handing the tests back to me,’ she said.”

Read the rest of Wagner’s article by clicking here.

Alaska

Good news and bad news from the U.S. Senate today:

The good: Overwhelming approval of The Employment Non-Discrimination Act ENDA – 64-34. The “ayes” included several Republicans including, believe it or not, that radical leftist Orrin Hatch of Utah (but not, disappointingly, North Carolina’s Richard Burr).Wonder when someone will stick a microphone in the face of Burr and the other opponents and ask them why they think it’s okay to fire people because they are gay.

The bad: More absurd stonewalling of eminently qualified women nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit – the nation’s second most important court.  

Good news and bad news on the public education front from NC Policy Watch reporter Lindsay Wagner:

The good: North Carolina fourth and eighth graders continue to do better than average on the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests.

The bad: Really lousy new numbers for NC students on standardized tests as the state moves to align with the much more rigorous demands of the Common Core education standards. The Common Core, of course, has been a target of frequent attacks from the right (and some progressives).

Good news and bad news from the McCrory administration in recent days: Read More

Recommendations resulting from the work of 22 educators, parents and education experts tasked with proposing a plan to improve early elementary school learning and instruction through more efficient and effective use of student-centered assessments was revealed today at Duke University’s Center for Child and Family Policy.

One of the top goals recommended by the group was to equip teachers with better tools to observe student strengths and support learning right from the start of kindergarten.

In order to accomplish this, teachers will need to engage in a formative assessment process that identifies strengths and areas for growth for each student, beginning in kindergarten. Click here to read the plan for developing this process, which includes a pilot program aimed at developing assessment goals and systems that educators can use.

State Superintendent June Atkinson said at the briefing, “Traditional testing is not appropriate for our youngest students,” Atkinson said, “At the same time, we want teachers to gather key information about how their youngest students are learning so that they can meet students’ needs.”

Formal assessments currently begin in the third grade. Because some students begin to exhibit developmental delays prior to that time, these formative assessments are intended to catch learning problems earlier. They are not intended for accountability purposes, such as teacher or school evaluation.

One attendee who said she used to be a teacher with 40 kids, qualifying that experience as “loosely managed chaos,” raised the issue of how to reconcile this individualized assessment approach with the lack of resources teachers are dealing with now thanks to recent cuts made by the General Assembly.

“I hope that North Carolina is in a very temporary state in terms of having fewer resources for our teachers,” said Atkinson. “It’s critical to the economic development of our state and to maintaining high graduation rates.”

“We just need our policymakers to spend a day with a kindergarten teacher,” said Atkinson.

Asked how he envisions technology will play a role in capturing the outcomes of these formative assessments, the group’s co-chair, John Pruette, director of the NC Department of Public Instruction’s Office of Early Learning, said “technology is definitely part of the plan here. We’ll be working with vendors to help us create a way to help teachers think about data they are collecting.”

Amplify, the company that recently provided hundreds of faulty tablet computers to Guilford County Schools as part of a Race to the Top grant program, is also in the business of promoting formative assessments in early grades, ostensibly to be the providers of the technology support that the initiative would demand.

Pruette says they haven’t identified a vendor yet to play a role in the formative assessment initiative. “We have no preconceived ideas about a vendor.”

The work of the group is funded by a Race to the Top grant and the Center for Family and Child Policy at Duke University, in addition to the $18 million set aside for early formative assessments by the General Assembly.

North Carolina lawmakers may be moving to put more stock than ever in high-stakes, standardized testing, but around the country, the momentum is growing to de-emphasize the tests.

As reported yesterday at the website Common Dreams, hundreds of Chicago students are even taking things to the next level by organizing a boycott of the doggone things:

“Over 300 students from over 25 different Chicago public schools boycotted the second day of a state-wide standardized test.

Ahead of a school board meeting, at which the demonstrators were banned from speaking, the students rallied outside the district headquarters carrying placards and forming a human chain. Read More