Parent group ‘cautiously optimistic’ about new plan to reduce student testing

Reform advocates worry that A-F testing program for schools remains a big problem

Leaders of N.C. Families for School Testing Reform are “cautiously optimistic” about Superintendent Mark Johnson’s plan to reduce the amount of high stakes testing taking place in North Carolina Schools.

Susan Book told Policy Watch on Wednesday that she likes the part of Johnson’s plan that calls for reducing the amount of time students must sit for tests.

But she said other parts, such as the one calling for the use of technology to “personalize learning and eliminate testing,” is too vague.

“What does that look like?” Book asked. “We don’t understand that. It’s very vague at this point.”

Until testing is no longer tied to school letter grades, Book said it will continue to cause anxiety in parents, teachers and students.

“I really think some of it [Johnson’s plan] is meaningless if we don’t address the testing culture,” Book said. “We’re never going to get rid of that culture unless we address school grades.”

Since 2015, all North Carolina schools have received letter grades from A-F each year. A big chunk – 80 percent – of a school’s grade is tied to students’ performance on state tests. The other 20 percent of the grade is tied to how much academic growth students gained over one year of learning.

Suzanne Miller, also a leader of N.C. Families for School Testing Reform, said the organization hoped the superintendent would invite some of its members to help craft the plan.

“We feel parental input is important,” Miller said.

She said group’s goals are to reduce the overall amount of assessments, make sure assessments are fair and equitable for all students and ensure that testing results provide educators useful data that measures student growth.

Brad McMillen, the assistant superintendent for data, research and accountability for Wake County Public Schools, said Johnson’s plan looks like a good first step.

“The devil’s in the details, though,” McMillen said.

He said simply reducing the number of tests would help lower stress for students,  and also for school districts, which must mobilize hundreds of volunteers each year to serve as exam proctors.

Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators [NCAE], said Johnson’s plan is short on specifics.

“The superintendent had a major opportunity to significantly curb the use of standardized testing over the last two years when the state adopted it’s ESSA [Every Student Succeeds Act] plan, but the superintendent chose to side with the General Assembly to double-down on testing, not reduce it,” Jewell said.

Meanwhile, Johnson said the plan he released this week will allow educators to spend more time teaching.

“We will be working with local superintendents and state leaders to reform the system of over-testing,” Johnson said in a news release. “We can give the teachers the time to do what they entered the profession to do: teach.”

N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson

Here’s Johnson’s plan to reduce testing in North Carolina schools:

  • Reduce the number of questions on tests.
  • Reduce the time students must sit for tests.
  • Change testing policies to reduce the stress at schools around testing time.
  • Work with local leaders to reduce the number of locally required tests.
  • Push to eliminate tests not required by Washington, D.C.
  • Give students other ways to show progress if they have a bad test day.
  • Use the appropriate amount of technology as a tool for students and teachers to personalize learning and eliminate tests.

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