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State Board of Education moves forward with testing study

The State Board of Education reviewed plans to change the assessment paradigm in North Carolina schools today via conference call, and voted to go ahead with a study to determine its validity in the coming year. 

The testing plan, if ultimately implemented, would scrap end-of-grade tests in grades 3-8 and replace them with three or four interim assessments throughout the year, one of which would take place at the end of the year. In high school, it would replace the current system with pre-tests in grades 9 and 10 and a post-test in 11th grade. The content on the 9th and 10th grade tests would focus on things students must learn for the 11th grade test, which would be a college assessment. 

“We would use this coming year as the opportunity to determine whether that foundational element of the task force’s recommendation would actually work,” said Board member Eric Davis. 

The Board voted to accept the testing recommendations of the Task Force on Summative Assessment, which has been working for months to create the new plan. The acceptance of the report doesn’t mean the changes are a done deal. That will be decided during many months and years of discussion as the study takes place and data comes in for the Board’s consideration. 

The study would test students in a representative sample of schools next year, focusing on math assessments of 3,500–4,500 students in grade 5, and English Language Arts/Reading assessments of 3,500–4,500 students in grade 6. After reviewing the results in grades 5 and 6 following the first year of the study, the state could move into an expanded “field test” the second year. If all goes well, a third year of the study would roll out the new tests statewide.

For high school, staff would simply put out a request for national assessment proposals next year from vendors. In the following year, the state would establish a statewide pilot, and come up with a way to figure out student proficiency with the data from the 11th grade test. The third year of the study, the new assessments would be rolled out in 9th through 11th grades. 

During the meeting, Board members stressed the need to make sure the Department of Public Instruction has a good communications plan to explain the study and possible testing changes to the public. 

“I know that we’re going to continue to receive more and more questions, and I want to make sure we’re saying the right things,” said Board member Becky Taylor. 

Tammy Howard, Director of Accountability Operations for DPI, said talks were underway with communications staff on the possibility of constructing a FAQ for and webinars with the public. 

The Board also voted to send a report to the General Assembly explaining the testing plan. 

“We want to get it right. And they need to be part of the decision making that goes forward,” said Board Vice Chair A.L. Collins. 

He noted that the testing decisions will require changes in statute. As an example, he noted that the ACT test, currently given in high schools, does not align with the new testing plans. However, ACT is a statutorily required test, and that is something the General Assembly may need to deal with. 

After our last post on the testing changes, we asked Deputy State Superintendent Rebecca Garland to clarify the need to move away from ACT under the new testing plan. This is what she said: 

“We currently give a suite of ACT exams – we give Explore in grade 8 and Plan in grade 10 for diagnostic assessment and career exploration purposes. Students get reports that inform them as to their readiness for college level work. ACT is eliminating Explore and Plan. They have implemented a suite of tests in reading and mathematics in grades 3-10 [the website says through early high school]. Because they now have assessments at those grade levels, they will no longer support Explore and Plan.”

“The ACT will still be available for the state to administer in grade 11. The Board will decide in the near future as to whether to continue administering the ACT or whether to review what is on the market for high school. The Board is interested in some type of diagnostic testing for high school to support the exam at grade 11. That is why ACT may no longer be their first choice. That review has not been done yet so I anticipate that at some point the Board will issue an RFP.”

The Board will continue to discuss the possible testing changes and the progress of the study at their monthly meetings. Members were adamant that this would be helpful in deciding the best course of action. 

“I would really like to have an opportunity as we get questions and have questions, that we can discuss this,” said Board member Patricia Willoughby. 

The hope with the testing changes is that interim assessments would be lower stakes and able to give teachers more feedback on instruction than the current testing models, while still providing the data necessary to understand how students, teachers and schools are doing statewide.

“We need to find a way to be smarter with respect to the way we test,” Collins said.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.