There's a new push by state lawmakers to reduce the amount of tests that North Carolina students are required to take each school year.
Since at least the 1990s, parents and teachers have frequently complained about how there's too much testing of students, leading to lots of talk but not as much action. Both the Senate and House voted this week to have State Schools Superintendent Mark Johnson make recommendations to legislators by Jan. 15, 2019 on ways to reduce testing that's not required by state or federal law.
"There are numerous members in this chamber and across the hall who have tried for years to try to limit the amount of testing that is going on — unnecessary testing that is going on in our classrooms," Sen. Chad Barefoot, a Wake Forest Republican, said before Wednesday night's vote.
The Senate voted 47-0 for the bill on Wednesday. The House voted 93-12 for the bill on Thursday. It now goes to Gov. Roy Cooper.
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The testing study was one of the items added Wednesday to House Bill 986. That bill also would require school districts to place in advanced math classes those students who score at the top level on state math tests. It also would require districts to report how they're teaching cursive handwriting and multiplication tables.
The new wording on testing taps into long-held complaints that testing puts too much pressure on students. But at the same time, tests are used to assess how students, teachers and schools are doing academically.
In a press release after Wednesday's vote, Senate Leader Phil Berger said legislators worked closely with Johnson on the changes to the bill.
"I am committed to reducing burdens on students, parents, and educators," Johnson said in a statement. "I campaigned for State Superintendent to reduce overtesting, which is a problem I consistently hear about from all three of those groups.
“Our work has already begun, and I applaud the General Assembly for joining with me in this important goal, I look forward to giving them my recommendations on how to reduce the testing burden in North Carolina.”
Testing begins in kindergarten but ramps up in third grade, where failure to pass the state end-of-grade (EOG) reading test can under state law result in students not being promoted to the next grade.
Testing is particularly intense during the end of the school year, when schools implement elaborate rules designed to prevent cheating and eliminate distractions.
“The EOGs as we administer them are absolutely, categorically one of the stupidest things on the planet we ever do," Sen. Jeff Tarte, a Mecklenburg County Republican, said at Wednesday's Senate Education Committee meeting.
Tarte talked about how he had recently served as a test proctor overseeing students. He said physicians and psychologists have told him it's "developmentally cruel" to make third-grade students sit still for three hours as they take the exams.
"This is such an unfair way to measure kids’ performance and abilities," Tarte said. "In some ways we talk about disrespecting teachers.
"The EOGs is the ultimate sign of disrespecting our teachers, not to have their feedback and input to know if kids are on grade level and need help."
Barefoot and Sen. Jerry Tillman, a Randolph County Republican and retired school administrator, tried to put the blame for the amount of testing on local school districts. Barefoot said school districts were "piling on the tests" while Tillman said that around 30 days each school year are spent on testing, much of which he said were local exams.
"I don't know how much learning is lost in losing those days of testing," Tillman said.