Standardized testing is nothing new in schools, but over the last several years the amount of it has significantly increased as the push for accountability has picked up.
The state of North Carolina now administers 49 exams to students. Some people in high positions have joined the backlash against all this testing and now the state is looking at ways to ease up a bit.
Over the past year, North Carolina has doubled the number of standardized tests students are required to take. Many parents, teachers, even district superintendents have complained. And they’ve gained a powerful ally, Governor Pat McCrory. He recently told the state chamber of commerce that teachers have become test proctors.
“We need to slow down and regroup with all these tests and let our teachers teach,” said McCrory on WRAL-TV.
So what’s behind all these new tests?
Like other states, North Carolina has long required students to take standardized tests at the end of the year. That picked up under No Child Left Behind. But the number of tests is surging across the country as more states receive waivers from that legislation and federal Race to the Top money, too.
North Carolina is one of them. The state agreed to evaluate teachers based on student test scores and that means adding tests. It’s those tests called MSLs or Common Exams that have sparked the latest backlash.
“We are objecting to the quality of the tests, lack of funding to properly administer them, and the enormous stress they impose on students,” Larry Bosc, a social studies teacher at East Mecklenburg High school, told the CMS school board last month.
He was one of a handful of parents and teachers who asked the board to simply stop giving those tests. And, well, the district can’t. To get at why not, let’s ask a more basic question. What if North Carolina decided to do away with all standardized tests? What would happen?
“We’d lose millions and millions of dollars in federal money,” says Lou Fabrizio with the state’s Department of Public Instruction.
He makes sure North Carolina is keeping its end of the deals with the U.S. Department of Education. And lately he’s been asking the feds for some leniency. State officials have heard a lot of complaints about how all the testing pushes teachers to teach to the test, so they’re starting to make adjustments.
“Any ways that we can be reducing the number of outside imposed assessments, the better we think teachers will feel in terms of their ability to be teaching the things that they know they need to be teaching,” says Fabrizio
North Carolina has some leeway to do that. Tammy Howard is in charge of the state’s testing program. She has a whiteboard in her office with a list of all the new state tests.
“I’ve got a big ‘x’ through some, because we have eliminated some,” says Howard.
There were supposed to be 44 new tests rolled out between last year and this year. But the state eliminated about a third of those. Howard says some of them were just not useful.
“The other decision was looking at the extent of how we were testing students and where we could try to be more effective and efficient and not test everywhere, if you will,” says Howard.
The U.S. Department of Education doesn’t allow the state to eliminate all these new tests, nor does the state board of education necessarily want to. But Fabrizio says some students take more tests than others.
“Several school districts did in fact have their students take the regular teacher’s final exam, as well as having to take the common exam and measures of student learning exams. So those students were all being double-tested, so to speak,” says Fabrizio.
The state board of education this week will consider a proposal to make the new state tests count as final exams. That would cut down on the amount of testing, but Pamela Grundy sees some problems with that. She’s with MeckACTS, a group pushing to do away with high-stakes testing.
“I’d rather my son be graded on a good test that’s about what happened in that class, than on a state test that’s pushed to be extremely general,” says Grundy.
North Carolina is also asking the federal government to let districts come up with their own methods of evaluating teachers.