A state-sanctioned group looking at changing public school standardized testing wants to do something no other state has done — have smaller, periodic tests count the same as one big end-of-year exam.
A testing task force and state education officials are talking to school districts about experimenting with the new approach starting with the next school year.
Such a change would be dramatic for students in grades three through eight, where the school year leads to big exams in reading and math. Results are used to determine the quality of schools and whether students are prepared for the next grade.
The task force is aiming for four shorter tests throughout the year that would give teachers the chance to use the results to adjust their lessons. It would be up to the State Board of Education to move forward with any plan the task force presents.
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Most task force members talk enthusiastically about changes, but Butch Hudson, a testing coordinator for 20 districts in the northeast part of the state, brought a note of caution at a meeting Friday, saying his counterparts in schools and districts across North Carolina are worried about the quick pace.
“If we do something and it doesn’t go well, it’s going to backlash,” Hudson said. “We’re talking about a major, major shift in testing and accountability in North Carolina with what we’re proposing.”
To meet requirements of federal law, the state would need to show that the results of those four periodic tests are the equivalent of end-of-grade exam results. But no other state measures student academic performance this way, so North Carolina would have to write its own tests, pay a company do it, or see what off-the-shelf tests are available.
The task force envisions the four shorter tests replacing intermittent tests most school districts already give to see whether students are on track to do well on the end-of-grades. But some districts said they would continue to do their own intermittent testing, Hudson said, because they want an idea of how students are doing before they take a test “that’s going to count for something.”
The state would need permission from the U.S. Department of Education to experiment with new tests, and it’s not now known whether districts participating in the experiment would also have to give students end-of-grade tests. Education officials met with 23 school districts interested in participating in a pilot program.
Cumberland County Superintendent Frank Till said districts won’t want to participate in the pilot program if it means adding tests.
“Superintendents are excited that the broken testing system in North Carolina is going to be fixed,” said Till, a task force member.