Students in Wake County and across the state have more state tests to take this school year, but the situation could change in the future if legislation is approved that eliminates some standardized tests.
Wake County is among 13 school systems and 23 charter schools that lost a state waiver that exempted students from taking the N.C. Final Exams that are required in dozens of courses from elementary to high schools. Wake school officials don’t have a high opinion of those state-developed exams and have been trying to find ways to reduce the number that must be given to students this school year.
“When we lost the waiver we had 100,000 multiple choice tests to add to the hopper,” said Brad McMillen, Wake’s assistant superintendent for data, research and accountability.
In the long term, House Bill 90 would eliminate the N.C. Final Exams beginning in the 2017-18 school year. The bill passed the House in a 117-1 vote and has been referred to the Senate Rules Committee.
The 24 Final Exams are given for courses that don’t have a state end-of-grade or end-of-course test. The exams cover courses in language arts, social studies, science and math in elementary, middle and high school.
The N.C. Final Exams were developed so more teachers would have standardized student test data that could be used to evaluate their performance.
Wake County, which is North Carolina’s largest school system, received a waiver from the State Board of Education in 2015 to not offer the exams. In its request, the district mentioned issues such as lost instructional time from giving the exams and asserted that the tests did not match what students are learning in class.
With the waiver, McMillen said high school teachers developed their own final exams. The tests weren’t replaced at elementary and middle schools.
But state lawmakers removed Final Exam waivers as part of the state budget adopted in 2015. School districts were allowed to keep their waivers through the end of last school year.
For this school year, McMillen said high school teachers gave the Final Exams at the end of first semester in January. He said more exams will be given at the end of the school year.
The Final Exams are worth 20 percent of the final grade in the high school courses but don’t count for student grades in elementary and middle schools.
After talking with principals, McMillen said Wake decided to limit how many of the Final Exams are given in elementary and middle schools. He said the social studies and science Final Exams aren’t being given when teachers have results from the end-of-grade or end-of-course tests that can be used instead.
But in cases where elementary and middle school teachers only teach science or social studies, McMillen said their students will be taking the Final Exams. He said this will affect a small number of elementary school students and a larger number in middle schools.
McMillen said Wake would definitely support the elimination of the N.C. Final Exams as proposed by House Bill 90.
Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, a Wilkes County Republican and a primary sponsor of the bill, has suggested that the N.C. Final Exams are not being used well to set statewide policy.