Politics & Government

Plan to reduce NC student testing in limbo as Senate balks at House plan

A plan to overhaul the state’s testing program is in limbo as state lawmakers can’t agree on the next step to reduce the number of tests given to North Carolina public school students.

Both the state House and Senate have passed different bills that would reduce the number of tests given in response to years of complaints that students are tested too much. The House attempted to merge both versions, which the Senate unanimously rejected on Monday night.

Lawmakers will try to work out a compromise on Senate Bill 621. For instance, both the House and Senate have agreed in their respective bills to eliminate the N.C. Final Exams, which are more than 20 state tests given to students of teachers who can’t use another state exam to evaluate their performance.

“I hope that a conference committee can come to a compromise on reducing testing for our students,” said Dane West, a social studies teacher at Knightdale High School, Monday night. “The amount of testing our students face is harmful to their mental health and our ability, as teachers, to teach. Our students deserve better.”

But lawmakers also face concerns from the N.C. Chamber of Commerce, which has warned that the House is moving too fast with the testing changes.

In addition to eliminating the N.C. Final Exams, the Senate’s plan also calls for school districts to reduce the number of local tests they give if students spend more time on them than state exams.

The House wanted to go even further than eliminating N.C. Final Exams. Other changes they proposed include:

Replace the state end-of-grade 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 end-of-course 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 and presenting the project to a panel. This would go into effect in the 2019-20 school year.

With the House bill not moving in the Senate, the House added their testing changes to the legislation passed by the Senate.

Sen. Jerry Tillman, an Archdale Republican and a primary sponsor of the Senate bill, urged his colleagues Monday not to accept the House’s changes. He said the Check-Ins would lead to more exams being given.

“Only the House, I hate to say this, could take a reduction in testing bill and add testing to the bill,” Tillman said.

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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.