Board of Education keeps state-produced tests, considers alternative testing

cowens@newsobserver.comFebruary 5, 2014 

During a tense meeting Wednesday, the State Board of Education put off for one more day a decision on third-grade reading tests but recommended keeping state-produced standardized tests for two more years.

The board has been dealing with criticism from educators and parents over testing requirements outlined in the Read to Achieve law passed last year.

The law requires most third-graders statewide to read at grade level before being promoted to fourth grade or go to a summer reading camp. The law provides three ways students can show reading proficiency: pass an end of grade test, pass a certain number of 36 minitests, or pass a local alternative test approved by the state board.

Fifteen individual school districts, including Wake County, and a group of 15 school districts in the Triad have asked the board to approve their alternative tests.

In considering those proposals on Wednesday, some board members expressed concern that the local alternatives would not comply with the law’s requirement that tests be “valid and reliable,” and asked whether the proposals complied.

“The ones that are listed here we are comfortable with. It’s just the details – some plans came in much more detailed than others,” said Carolyn Guthrie, director of K-3 literacy for North Carolina Public Schools.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said it is the responsibility of the school districts to ensure the proposals meet the law’s requirements.

“We are relying on our superintendents across the state to make that decision when they submitted these to us,” she said.

Mark Edwards, superintendent of the Mooresville school district and an adviser to the board, spoke out emotionally about the 36 minitests.

“We’re going to test students until they’re nauseated,” Edwards said, telling about conversations with parents whose children are getting sick from the pressure of passing tests to avoid summer school. “This is not what we intended, but it turned into a train wreck.”

Atkinson said the minitests should only be used when a teacher deems a student ready.

“It is torture for a child ... who is required to read a certain passage on a certain day and time when a teacher knows that child isn’t ready,” she said.

The board will reconvene Thursday to vote on the matter.

It did, however, recommend that the state-produced end-of-grade tests aligned to Common Core standards remain for two more years. When the tests were introduced last spring, officials had planned for students to take national tests linked to Common Core in the 2014-15 school year.

Keeping the state-written tests through the 2015-16 school year gives the board time to request the funding necessary to pay for new tests linked to Common Core standards.

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