Politics & Government

NC lawmakers could eliminate more than 20 state tests for students. Will it happen?

North Carolina lawmakers could eliminate more than 20 state exams before students return from summer break and overhaul the rest of the state’s testing program.

The state House and Senate have separately passed legislation that would reduce the amount of standardized tests given in schools. Now House education leaders are pushing a plan that would merge parts of both bills and start reducing the amount of tests given as soon as this fall.

“The effort here is to combine concepts from both of the bills into one,” said Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, a Wilkes County Republican and primary sponsor of the House’s plan to reduce testing. “(The bill) is a blend of both the House and Senate.”

The House Education Committee passed a version of the Senate’s testing reduction bill last week that included wording from the House legislation. The new version of Senate Bill 621 would:

Eliminate the N.C. Final Exams starting in the 2019-20 school year. These 20+ state tests are given to students of teachers who don’t have results from a state end-of-grade (EOG) test or state end-of-course (EOC) test that can be used to evaluate their performance.

Replace the state EOG exams given in grades 3-8 in reading, math and science with the N.C. Check-Ins, which are shorter exams given to students three times a year in each subject. The Check-Ins are currently voluntary but would become mandatory beginning in the 2022-23 school year.

Eliminate the four remaining state EOC exams for biology, English and math typically taken by high school students. They’d be replaced by the ACT now taken by all of the state’s high school juniors or by a “nationally recognized assessment of high school achievement and college readiness.” This change would go into effect in the 2020-21 school year.

Prohibit school districts from requiring students to do a high school graduation project. The project involves students researching and writing a paper on a topic that they’ve chosen and presenting the project to a panel. This would go into effect in the 2019-20 school year.

Require school districts to determine how many hours their students spend on local standardized tests. If it’s more than the time spent on state exams, they’d come up with a plan to reduce the amount of local testing. Districts would do the reports every two years during even-numbered years. The first report would be due in 2020.

Require the state Department of Public Instruction to review the third-grade reading EOG to determine whether it should be modified to better meet the needs of the Read To Achieve program. The state has spent more than $150 million since 2012 under Read To Achieve, but third-grade reading scores have worsened over time.

Rep. Graig Meyer, a Chapel Hill Democrat. said that the legislation is better than the version the House had approved in April. But Meyer said he’s concerned that too many state tests would be eliminated in high school.

“I do worry about the unintended consequences of this section and just think that we need to be in touch with our educators and with national partners who help us think about the quality of our schools and how we track the quality of high school education in the best way,” Meyer said at last week’s Education Committee meeting.

The bill needs to clear the House Rules Committee before being voted on by the full House. It would then return to the Senate for a vote.

If passed, this legislation would come after years of parents, students and educators complaining that there’s too much testing in schools. Some changes were made for the school year that ended in June, such as shortening the length of tests and not requiring proctors for exams.

Suzanne Miller, organizer of N.C. Families For School Testing Reform, said Monday that the group appreciates the legislature’s efforts to reduce testing. But she said that any legislative efforts short of a full repeal of the Read To Achieve legislation will have minimal impact on the testing of the state’s youngest students.

“NC Families For School Testing Reform was not consulted in the writing of this bill, and we defer to education professionals when it comes to the testing of K-12 students,” Miller said in a statement. ‘Our objections to over-testing extend beyond quantity. Over-testing has narrowed the curriculum to which our children are exposed, and has had a negative impact on the culture of our schools and the morale of children and teachers in North Carolina.”

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.