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NC Final Exam elimination poses problem for State Board

In the wake of legislation that eliminated the North Carolina Final Exams, the State Board of Education considered how to replace the teacher effectiveness data provided by the assessments Wednesday.

They couldn’t come up with a good answer. At least not before next year.

“What is being asked is really not possible,” said Tom Tomberlin, director of District Human Capital at the state Department of Public Instruction.

The issue is that for a number of teachers in the state, scores from the NC Final Exams are the only way the state can measure effectiveness. Tomberlin said there are almost 61,000 teachers who get at least some of their student growth scores from the NC Final Exams. Those scores are used to determine effectiveness.

However, there are 12,000 teachers who only receive student growth scores from the NC Final Exams.

“They will get no growth information once the North Carolina Final exams go away,” Tomberlin said.

Last month, he presented to the Board five possible ways to measure teacher effectiveness for teachers who previously were evaluated based on NC Final Exam scores:

  • Student surveys.
  • Student learning objectives.
  • Formative assessments.
  • Computer adaptive testing.
  • Observational evaluation.

The Board asked him to come back with one recommendation from that list. Tomberlin said Wednesday he couldn’t do that.

“If you want to measure how effective a teacher is … within that system is a fair amount of subjectivity. The best way to guard against subjectivity … is to have multiple lenses by which you view that event,” he said.

He presented instead a model that would be an amalgamation of different options.

Courtesy of DPI

The problem is that this is not an easy fix — and those teachers who will no longer have NC Final Exams have to be measured as soon as next school year. Tomberlin said it could take as long as five years to get the new system up and running.

“The best solution to this problem would be to maintain the North Carolina Final Exams … until such time as we could create a more robust model,” he said. He added later of the new model: “I would also be remiss if I didn’t say it’s going to be incredibly expensive.”

Olivia Oxendine, a chair of the Board committee presenting the report, said that the Board would vote on a report to go to the General Assembly that lays out Tomberlin’s model but also explains the difficulties ahead.

“Lay out to the General Assembly the very things that we’ve talked about today. The challenges. The money factor,” she told Tomberlin, adding later: “It’s mammoth work. It’s worthy work … it’s worth our investigation and our research and our best effort.”

One big sticking point with the legislature could be the need for some sort of assessment to be included in any system that measures teacher effectiveness.

“There are many ways to skin that, but … any model we develop that didn’t focus on student outcomes would ultimately be deficient,” Tomberlin said.

Matt Bristow-Smith, principal at Edgecombe Early College High School and advisor to the State Board, said that the problem has been clear ever since the General Assembly got rid of NC Final Exams during the most recent long session.

“I think many of us have known since the legislation was passed that there was probably going to be no solution that was as effective,” he said.

He added that the legislation was passed because of an anti-testing wave that had been sweeping the education sphere. But, he said that eliminating NC Final Exams doesn’t actually reduce testing.

“If you ask any school in North Carolina: What are students going to do at the very end of their Math 2 class or their American History class? They are going to tell you they are going to take a summative, cumulative exam,” Bristow-Smith said. “Whether it’s administered by the state of North Carolina or it’s administered by the teacher, they are going to take an exam.”

What actually goes away with the elimination of the exams is an objective way to measure student growth, Bristow-Smith said.

Board Member JB Buxton said he believes it’s likely that the state has to have an assessment of some kind to measure student growth and teacher effectiveness for those who would have previously taken the NC Final Exams. He noted the growing conversation around the long-running Leandro case and a plan to make sure the state is compliant with the state’s constitutional mandate to provide every child with a sound, basic education.

“I don’t see any wiggle room to have some assessment of student knowledge of certain content areas,” he said.

The consent order signed by the court in the Leandro case says the state’s plan of action must include, “An assessment and accountability system that reliably assess multiple measures of student performance against the Leandro standard and provides accountability consistent with the Leandro standard.”

The Board voted to approve the report which will now go to the General Assembly. Until Tomberlin’s model can be fully developed and implemented, the report will reflect that the NC Final Exams would need to continue to be used in order to measure teacher effectiveness.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados was the senior reporter for EducationNC from December 2014-March 2023.