Education

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.
News

NC Congressman breaks hip, will miss more time before returning to DC

Congressman Walter B. Jones, Jr., who has represented the 3rd congressional district for 13 terms, suffered a broken hip at his home on Monday. According to his office, Jones underwent successful surgery at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville yesterday.

Congressman Walter B. Jones (NC-3)

The fall for the 75-year-old follows an extended leave of absence granted in December for undisclosed health reasons.

His office told Policy Watch earlier this month that he would not seek re-election in 2020.

In late December, Jones weighed-in on the federal government shutdown and the dispute over funding the border wall, calling on President Trump and Congress to find a solution that did not involve raising the federal debt.

“Whatever compromise is reached, it should be paid for without adding to the deficit or the debt,” said Congressman Jones. “America’s national debt is nearly $22 trillion. Next year our annual deficit is projected to top $1 trillion. We can’t afford to keep financing the provision of government services by borrowing more and more money. It’s morally irresponsible and it’s got to stop.”

“Improving security on the southern border is essential, and we need a fiscally responsible plan to pay for it,” Jones continued. “If Mexico isn’t going to be made to pay for a wall, that means funds must be found internally. Options could include cutting other wasteful federal spending. Foreign aid and the war in Afghanistan would be good places to start. As a wealthy man, the president might consider pledging some of his own funds as well. Whatever it takes, just so long as we don’t add to the debt that is bankrupting our great country.”

While Jones begins rehabilitation for his hip and staff continues to manage the day-to-day operations, his absence comes at a notable time.

North Carolinians living in the 9th district are also without a member of congress as the election between Mark Harris and Dan McCready remains in dispute.

North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District. (Source: https://jones.house.gov)

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Watchdog Bob Hall raises new questions in Moore poultry deal

N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore

Public watchdog Bob Hall is raising attention about House Speaker Tim Moore’s land deal with a poultry company in Siler City owned by one of his major political donors.

Hall wrote a letter and memo this morning to Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman and Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement Director Kim Westbrook Strach raising new questions for consideration as they continue to investigate the situation and examine the merits of the complaints filed by the Campaign for Accountability.

“To summarize and make the situation clear: The public is rightly suspicious when prominent politicians or their partners appear to profit handsomely from business deals with their major political donors,” Hall wrote. “In this case, Speaker Moore’s Southeast Land Holdings LLC bought a piece of property for $85,000 and three years later sold it for $550,000 to Mr. Cameron’s poultry company — and the only value added in those three years appears to result from Speaker Moore and his staff pushing state regulators to bypass standard procedures and reclassify the property to benefit SLH and Cameron’s company. The $465,000 price increase for the property seems excessively generous and even corrupt because it’s paid by a major donor to the Speaker’s House caucus and it’s tied to government favoritism resulting from the Speaker’s official status and staff actions.”

The Washington D.C.-based Campaign for Accountability filed a complaint recently calling on state officials to investigate whether Moore acted improperly to seek preferential treatment from state regulators. You can read more about that here.

Hall’s memo to investigative leaders includes a list of prior political donations from Ronald Cameron, of Little Rock, Ark., to Moore. Cameron owns Mountaire Corp., the nation’s seventh largest poultry company.

“Cameron has been a prolific donor to Republican candidates and causes for many years,” Hall explains in the memo. “His company has had operations in North Carolina since it purchased the Piedmont Poultry processing plant in Lumber Bridge in 1996, but Cameron only started making substantial political donations in the state in 2014. From July 1, 2014 to December 31, 2018, he contributed nearly $1 million to influence elections in North Carolina.”

Read the full memo below.

Commentary

Civil rights groups to tech giants: Don’t sell face surveillance to the government

In case you missed it yesterday, the ACLU issued a demand to Microsoft, Amazon and Google yesterday that the companies not sell face surveillance technology to the government.

This is from the release that accompanied the demand:

A coalition of over 85 racial justice, faith, and civil, human, and immigrants’ rights groups today sent letters to Microsoft, Amazon, and Google demanding the companies commit not to sell face surveillance technology to the government.

The coalition makes it clear to each company that a decision to provide face surveillance technology to the government threatens the safety of community members and will also undermine public trust in its business.

“Companies can’t continue to pretend that the ‘break then fix’ approach works,” said Nicole Ozer, Technology and Civil Liberties director for the ACLU of California. “History has clearly taught us that the government will exploit technologies like face surveillance to target communities of color, religious minorities, and immigrants. We are at a crossroads with face surveillance, and the choices made by these companies now will determine whether the next generation will have to fear being tracked by the government for attending a protest, going to their place of worship, or simply living their lives.”

The coalition also notes in its letters that face surveillance “gives the government new power to target and single out immigrants, religious minorities, and people of color in our communities” and that “systems built on face surveillance will amplify and exacerbate historical and existing bias.” Acknowledging both employee and shareholder calls for corporate change, the coalition reiterates that it is time for these companies to take responsibility for the impact of their technology on the privacy and safety of communities and commit not to sell face surveillance to the government….

The letters come as executives from Google, Amazon, and Microsoft have all spoken publicly about facial recognition technology, revealing an industry at odds on how to respond to concerns raised about government use of such technology. Read more

News

Update: UNC Board of Governors wants UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor gone by January 31

The UNC Board of Governors accepted UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt’s resignation Tuesday – but said they want her out of the position by the end of this month.

Folt announced her resignation abruptly Monday after tensions with the board of governors over the future of the “Silent Sam” Confederate statue. In a press conference Tuesday morning, Folt said she hoped to stay until graduation in May.

The Board of Governors has authorized interim UNC President William Roper to to appoint an interim chancellor “at such time as he deems appropriate” until a new full-time chancellor can be chosen.

UNC Board of Governors Chair Harry Smith said in a statement Monday that the board was blindsided by Folt’s resignation and upset by her  order to remove the base of the Confederate statue, which was taken to an unnamed secure location Monday night.

While I’m disappointed by the Board of Governors’ timeline, I have truly loved my almost six years at Carolina,” Folt said in a written statement Tuesday afternoon. “Working with our students, faculty and staff has inspired me every day. It is their passion and dedication, and the generosity of our alumni and community, that drive this great University.”

“I believe that Carolina’s next chancellor will be extremely fortunate, and I will always be proud to be a Tar Heel,” Folt said in the statement.