State Education Board poised to loosen reins on final exams

The State Board of Education is responding to mass defections from statewide methods for measuring teachers’ contributions to student progress by considering alternatives for districts that want to come up with their own ideas.

Schools started keeping track of how students progressed under individual teachers in 2013 with the intent of using the information in teacher evaluations. That part of the evaluation uses student scores on long-established standardized tests, such as end-of-grade exams, for classes that have them. For other courses, students take newer state-distributed N.C. Final Exams. For art classes and the like, teachers submit samples of student work for review.

But dozens of school districts received permission to opt out of the state final exams and art evaluations. Wake, the state’s largest school district, won permission to opt out of the state final exams last month. Legislators have indicated – through a House bill – that they want education officials to drop the tests.

Districts and teachers complain that the tests don’t represent what students are taught, students don’t take the tests seriously, and administering them eats up too much classroom time.

As an alternative to the state final exams, the State Board would allow districts to develop their own plans for determining teacher growth. The plans may include tests districts develop or purchase. The local plans would need approval from the State Board of Education.

The board is set to vote on the new policy Thursday, and it would be in effect for the next school year. Opting out of the state final exams would no longer be an option.

Some district superintendents welcome coming up with their own methods, said State Superintendent June Atkinson, while others will continue to use the state exams.

“Giving the local option should be positive,” she said at a committee meeting Wednesday. “This gives the opportunity for school districts to think of other ways in determining what would be the student growth measure.”

The policy says that the growth factor calculated through test scores won’t be used in isolation “for employment decisions.” But Board Vice-Chairman A.L. Collins warned that future decisions on teacher merit pay could be based on tests that many say are flawed.

“There should be a better way to evaluate teachers than a test that has had as much criticism as these tests have had,” he said. “I just think we can do better.”

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Twitter: @Lynn_Bonner