Smithfield Herald

Schools ease testing regimen

Johnston County third-graders will be taking fewer test thanks to a decision by the county Board of Education.

At its meeting this month, the school board voted to use its own standardized testing instead of new tests created by North Carolina’s Read to Achieve program.

Read to Achieve, which focuses on literacy, is part of the Excellent Public Schools Act, which took effect this school year. Under the law, third-graders have to meet 12 standards. Each standard has 10 tests, or mini-assesments, and students have to pass at least three of the tests.

(Third-graders could fail the end-of-grade test in reading but still move on to fourth grade if they passed enough of the mini-assessments. If not, they would have to attend a summer reading camp.)

Rodney Peterson, chief academic officer for Johnston County schools, said each test takes about 15 minutes. At a minimum, students would have to pass 36 tests – three tests on each of the 12 standards – for a total of nine hours of testing.

Potentially, if a student kept failing, he could end up taking all 120 of the tests for a total of 30 hours.

The tests are supposed to be spread out over the course of the school year. But because the state was late in implementing the law this year, teachers were having to cram the tests into the second half of the year,

Printing the tests cost about $50,000, money the school system did not budget, Peterson said.

The state Board of Education gave school districts the option to use another set of tests instead of the Read to Achieve portfolio. Johnston County’s school board chose this route.

If a third-grader fails the end-of-grade test, he can still pass to the fourth grade if he scores high enough on one of three other tests – the beginning-of-grade test, the mClass Assessment or the county’s own “Measures of Academic Progress” test.

Peterson said the “Measures of Academic Progress” test already does what the Read to Achieve tests do: make sure students don’t go to the next grade when they aren’t ready.

“Our policy doesn’t provide getaways for any students,” Peterson said.

Schools and teachers who want to use the Read to Achieve tests can still do so, but now it’s up to them, giving teachers more freedom, Peterson said.

School board member Butler Hall said many people had come to him concerned about the new testing regimen. “We’re going to have a really difficult time finding third-grade teachers if something along these lines isn’t done to relieve all that’s being put on them,” he said. “Maybe this is going to help a lot.”

Helen Forbes, a substitute teacher in the Johnston County schools, has two children, including a third-grader.

Her third-grade daughter used to love school, Forbes said. But recently she came home and said: “Why do I have to go to school? I’m just going to have to take another test.”

All of the testing makes her children anxious, Forbes said.

The testing also takes away from teaching. “They’re not getting the instructional time they need, and then you see teachers who are about in tears because ... they have to take all this time out for all these assessments,” Forbes said. “So it’s like it just trickles down.”