State Politics

NC House OKs changes for student testing, school grades

The state House passed a package of education bills Tuesday that would change the state’s student-testing and school-grading regimens.

House Bill 248 would eliminate the maligned N.C. Final Exams and other judgments of student work – requirements that school districts are trying to get out of. The bill passed on a 116-2 vote.

The bill was among dozens that passed the House in a lengthy session Tuesday that stretched well into the evening. The chamber agenda also included votes on a new State Bureau of Investigation director, a proposal to allow Sunday hunting and a proposed ban on school boards suing their county government.

The final exams addressed in House Bill 248 are to be used in teacher evaluations, but a number of districts, including Wake have asked the State Board of Education for permission to dump them and use school-wide end-of-grade and end-of-course exams instead.

The state is giving Final Exams now under an agreement with the federal government. The bill as passed tells the state Department of Public Instruction to request a change in that agreement within two months of the law passing.

Another bill would change the way A through F grades for schools are calculated. The formula now for elementary and middle schools has standardized test results count for 80 percent of the grade with student growth, or how much students learn year-over-year, counting for 20 percent. House members argue that the formula under values student advancement. House Bill 803, which would change the formula to 50-50, passed 113-3.

Rep. Paul Stam, an Apex Republican, said he would vote for the bill even though he would prefer separate performance and growth scores for schools.

The bill “makes a sad situation a little bit better,” he said.

The bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where leaders have repeatedly said they want to stick with the existing formula for at least a few years.

House Bill 673, which would make changes to the state’s Read to Achieve law, passed unanimously. Supporters said the changes would reduce testing of third graders. Under the law, most third graders have to show that they are reading on grade level to get promoted to fourth grade.

Other Tuesday action

SBI appointment: The N.C. House unanimously approved Gov. Pat McCrory’s appointment for State Bureau of Investigation director. Acting director B.W. Collier will now begin an eight-year term in the post.

Collier’s confirmation, which already cleared the Senate, marks the first time the legislature has had a role in the hire. Past SBI directors were hired by the attorney general, but McCrory and Republican legislators moved the agency to the Department of Public Safety – part of the governor’s administration.

Democrats criticized the change as a political move because Attorney General Roy Cooper is expected to run against McCrory in 2016.

“This is sort of a historic action we’re taking here,” said Rep. John Faircloth, a High Point Republican. “He is working independent of the Department of Justice. This is an arrangement we feel is best for the people of North Carolina.”

House Rules Chairman David Lewis, a Dunn Republican, praised Collier, a longtime SBI agent who’s served as acting director since last year.

“Acting director Collier has distinguished himself in the performance of his duties,” Lewis said.

Shortly after the vote, McCrory issued a statement congratulating Collier. “B.W. Collier is a man of great integrity and intelligence,” the governor said. “His proven experience and capable leadership, ably demonstrated as acting director, are assets to the men and women working in this professional law enforcement agency. I want to thank members of the House and Senate for their thoughtful consideration and unanimous approval of his nomination.”

Payments to the wrongly convicted: The House unanimously approved a bill tweaking the state’s law governing compensation for people who are wrongly convicted of felonies.

Currently, compensation is only available to those who are declared innocent by the state’s Innocence Commission or those pardoned by the governor.

“There are occasions when a district attorney dismisses charges and agrees they’re innocent,” said the bill’s sponsor, Democratic Rep. Rick Glazier of Fayetteville. “This allows them to fall under the compensation statute as well.”

The bill would address the case of Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, who have been awaiting a formal pardon from Gov. Pat McCrory for months after they were exonerated of murder after spending three decades in prison.

McCollum and Brown are intellectually disabled and live with their sister, who struggles to pay rent and utilities on her home in Fayetteville. A pardon would qualify each man to receive $50,000 for each year they were imprisoned, up to a maximum of $750,000.

Reduced tuition for troops: Another House bill passed unanimously would lower community college tuition for active duty soldiers who move outside North Carolina as part of their military service. The goal is to prevent soldiers from having to transfer college credits or pay out-of-state tuition rates.

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Twitter: @Lynn_Bonner