NC education board wants to keep state-written tests 2 more years

lbonner@newsobserver.comJanuary 8, 2014 

— The State Board of Education is leaning toward keeping state-written standardized tests two more years, giving the board time to build public and legislative support for a new brand of testing.

The board doesn’t plan to vote this month on the state Department of Public Instruction’s recommendation to keep the state-produced tests at least through the 2015-16 school year. But members said Wednesday that they liked the idea of postponing selection of new tests and asking a new advisory group for suggestions. Board Chairman Bill Cobey asked DPI staff to develop a formal proposal for creating the advisory group.

The state introduced a new round of tests aligned to Common Core standards last spring and planned to have students take the state-produced exams for the final time this year. Education officials had considered those two years as transition years, before students were to begin taking national tests linked to Common Core in the 2014-15 school year.

The state had been on track to use national tests linked to new Common Core standards called SMARTER Balanced that North Carolina and a group of other states are developing. But the legislature, in its budget, said the board couldn’t pay for any new tests linked to Common Core standards unless legislators pass a law allowing them. Legislators are questioning Common Core, and the national tests cost about twice as much per student as the current end-of-grade and end-of-course tests.

Keeping state-written tests gives the board time to build support in the public and in the legislature for its next choice. The board could go to the legislature in January 2015 to request money for new tests, said Rebecca Garland, chief academic officer at DPI.

Since the state has tests of its own, it can afford to wait for a new choice rather than put classrooms through more upheaval, said state Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson.

“We need to stay the course with student assessments because of all the changes teachers, parents and others have faced in the past five years,” she said.

Though there was no vote, all members who spoke supported the idea of using state-written tests at least two more years.

Karyn Dickerson, a Guilford County teacher and an adviser to the board, said delaying a new testing regime would ease stress on teachers.

“I know from the teachers’ standpoint that continuing with the assessment we just started really is the wisest choice,” she said.

A delay would give teachers time to fully learn the standards and answer questions about technology and other issues, Dickerson said. Most students would use computers to take the SMARTER Balanced tests.

The state adopted Common Core standards for reading and mathematics in 2010, and they were introduced in classrooms statewide beginning in fall 2012 along with new state standards in other subjects. New versions of state-written tests were introduced in the past school year as well.

Part of the idea of Common Core is to be able to have state-to-state comparisons of student performance. The federal government is funding two consortia developing tests linked to the standards, and there are other tests the state can buy that would allow for national comparisons.

But state board members embraced the idea of stepping back to let other states use the consortia tests first.

“We don’t have to be the beta test always,” Cobey said.

Bonner: 919-829-4821; Twitter: @Lynn_Bonner

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