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Progress of new state testing plan discussed at State Board

The State Board of Education heard from presenters Wednesday on a wide range of policy changes, proposed decisions, and topics for discussion.

Some issues provoked more conversation from the Board than others. The first day of the meeting is for discussion. The items that require immediate action were voted on Thursday.

Proof of concept testing

In 2015, a task force formed by the State Board released a report recommending changes to the state’s testing system. The report also suggested doing a proof of concept study to test out these changes.

Tammy Howard, DPI’s director of accountability services, gave an update on that study to the Board Wednesday. They decided to change the name of the assessments for the next year — which will be administered three times throughout the school year — to NC Check-Ins.

The tests will be given to 15,023 fifth-graders from 169 schools in math and 15,915 sixth-graders from 111 schools in English language arts/reading. They also opened the study up to volunteers, which added 18 participating districts, including three charter schools.

Each of the assessments are formative — meaning they provide feedback to teachers and can help shape their teaching approach. Those are different than traditional End of Grade tests, which are summative. They’re meant to evaluate what students are learning and collect data.

The original intent was to add summative elements to each of the interim assessments so that the annual, high-stakes EOG would no longer be necessary. Currently, the EOG would still be given at the end of the year after three “check-ins.”

Howard said the original plan is not completely out the window.

“It’s still a possibility, is how I would phrase it,” Howard said. “We will continue to look to see if that opportunity is there.”

Howard said they’ve received positive feedback in the last year on the formative aspects of the tests. For example, teachers were given access to the test questions and were able to see how individual students responded.

“If we were to transition to using that data for a summative purpose, or an end-of-year purpose, then that might restrict some of that,” she said.

Achievement School District implementation timeline

Legislation passed in July will create an Achievement School District — a district of five of the lowest-performing schools from anywhere in the state headed by a superintendent chosen by the State Board.

The superintendent then has the discretion to choose which schools are participating. The law allows private organizations to run these schools, similarly to charters.

Adam Levinson, the interim director of the Office of Charter Schools, explained the options the Board has as to when the entire process will begin.

The Board can choose to open the district in the 2017-18 school year or the 2018-19 school year. If they choose the first option, the superintendent — who is still being chosen by an advisory group led by Lt. Gov. Dan Forest — would need to have identified the qualifying schools to recommend to the Board by November 15 of this year.

By Jan. 15 of next year, the Board could select the schools presented by the superintendent. By Feb. 15, the Board would need to select the schools’ operators, which would be contracted by the Board. And by March 1, the local school board would need to decide to either close the school or transfer it to the new district.

This timeline was concerning for many board members.

Bill Cobey, chairman of the Board, was the first to speak up. He said the first deadline in November was quickly approaching, and that there’s too much work to be done for the 2017-18 timeline.

“I’ll let you know where I stand,” Cobey said. “These timelines are really unrealistic. And I, for one, want to be part of something successful.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest wanted to get the ball rolling.

“I think we should make every attempt to go ahead and move forward with the schedule,” Forest said.

He said it didn’t make sense to make the decision to delay the project by a year before the superintendent had the chance to make that decision. Forest also mentioned that some schools, depending on whether or not they’re volunteering, may move more quickly through the process than others. It’s possible, Levinson said, that only one or two schools could start in 2017-18.

Levinson added that there are a lot of things that need to be done that the bill doesn’t mention. The superintendent, he said, would need to administer a competitive process to choose the operators. The type of contract, which could be borrowed from the charter school language, also needs to be decided on.

“It could be a charter operator,” Levinson said. “But my point is the bill is directing a new kind of entity that has not existed in this state before. And while they are charter-like, it is not creating a charter school.”

The timeline will be voted on at next month’s meeting, scheduled for Oct. 4, 5, and 6.

Here is the presentation on the Achievement School District.

ESSA update

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) — passed in December 2015 and replacing No Child Left Behind — requires each state to create its own plan to comply with the law. Lou Fabrizio, the director of data, research, and federal policy at DPI, started the presentation by giving an update on where the department is in its process of creating that plan.

Tammy Howard then gave a presentation on the state’s long-term ESSA goals.

John Pruette, DPI’s director of early learning, spoke on the possibilities the new law creates for pre-K in the state.

Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.