RALEIGH — Public school students take too many tests, Gov. Pat McCrory told education leaders Wednesday, and the state needs to figure out how to lighten the load.
During a meeting with the State Board of Education, McCrory said he has instructed his new senior education advisor, Eric Guckian, to identify which tests are unnecessary and report back by the end of the summer.
The move is the latest example of how top elected officials are putting the state’s testing and education standards under fresh scrutiny. Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a member of the state education board, has promised a critical review of the K-12 learning standards known as “Common Core” that North Carolina adopted in 2010.
The challenges to the status quo are turning the once-sleepy State Board of Education meetings into pointed exchanges. The board, which until a few months ago contained all Democrats, now features a mix of veterans and new McCrory appointees.
On Wednesday, just a few hours before McCrory made the argument for fewer tests, administrators with the state Department of Public Instruction answered questions from skeptical board members about North Carolina’s testing regimen.
Board Vice Chairman A.L. “Buddy” Collins said two high school assistant principals told him that their schools spend 20 days a year on tests. Those 20 days represent lost instructional time, he said.
“The testing program of this state has reduced our school year to 165 days,” Collins said. “We are operating at a time when many educators would say we need a 200-day year of education to keep up with international counterparts.”
Rebecca Garland, DPI’s chief academic officer, said schools should not need to reserve 20 days for testing.
“If we’re talking 20 days out of the instructional calendar, we don’t want that to happen,” she said. “I want to know what it is, too.”
McCrory later told the State Board of Education that he met with more than a half dozen school superintendents last week, and they uniformly complained about the testing load and the drain on instructional time.
Tests “need to be fewer and deeper,” said Guckian.
Over the years, the state board and the legislature have whittled the tests to only those required under federal law, and two national high school exams.
But this year, schools added 30 tests called Measures of Student Learning that are spread across fourth through 12th grades. These tests are taken in subjects that don’t have corresponding end-of-grade or end-of-course exams and are supposed to be substitutes for local tests. Districts have complained about the cost and time taken to grade them.
These are not the high-stakes tests used to evaluate schools, but the results will be used to rate teachers as part of the state’s Race to the Top federal grant requirements.
McCrory said his discussion with superintendents echoed what he heard from parents and teachers over the last two years.
“There are too many tests,” he said. “We are adding test after test after test, and the teachers are going, ‘when will we be allowed to teach?’ ”
The focus on tests was also one of the top objections teachers brought to a meeting with legislators earlier this year, said Brian Lewis, a lobbyist for the N.C. Association of Educators.
“We hear about tests all the time,” Lewis said. “Teachers just want to be left alone to teach.”
Forest is questioning the state decision to adopt the national Common Core standards in math and English language arts. The state handed control of its education standards to national groups, Forest said Wednesday. The decision was made without properly involving teachers in determining about what students should learn, he said.
Schools used the Common Core statewide for the first time this year. Forest said the decision deserves continuing scrutiny.
His stance may lead to a split among board members and administrators. State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson vigorously defended the Common Core as she and Forest stood together at Wednesday’s meeting.
Teachers, parents and business leaders were invited to comment on the standards as they developed, Atkinson said.
“We had very high participation during that process from 115 school districts in the state,” she said. “We wanted our teachers and others to know what would be expected.”