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‘Tight timeline’ to return final exam scores burdens some teachers

Some North Carolina teachers had to mark students’ final grades as “incomplete” because they did not receive final exam scores before their grading deadlines.

In some cases, teachers were asked to come back to school — after their contracts are over — to amend students’ final grades once scores are received. 

Tammy Howard, director of accountability services at the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), said 99 percent of test scores handled at the department level have been sent back to local school districts or charter schools. She said no unexpected delays have occurred this year. 

“I wouldn’t deny that sometimes it can be on our end that we might have something happen that would delay, but we haven’t had anything like that happen this year,” Howard said. 

Durham Public Schools spokesperson Chip Sudderth said the county has seen some delays with exams that require written responses but that each school differs as to who records those scores.

“It’s my understanding that this is not a new situation,” Sudderth said. 

Susan Hoke, spokesperson for Edgecombe County Public Schools, said none of their English 2 exam results have been returned by DPI and a few of their English 3 exams have not been returned either.

“They are coming in later than what (the state) had projected,” Hoke said.

If scores are late, the responsibility of correcting students’ transcripts falls on different individuals depending on the district. 

Hoke said that because of missed school days during the year due to Hurricane Matthew flooding, additional work days have been added to the district calendar. She said teachers are fortunately still around. “But under normal circumstances, it would have been a problem,” Hoke said.

Brooke Stegall, an AP Language and yearbook teacher at Porter Ridge High School in Union County, said if the school year ends and scores still are not in, teachers have to put grades into their system whenever they receive them.

“There’s no way to be sure that (the scores) will actually be done when we’re done,” Stegall said. She said it is typically “pretty close” — a day or two — if scores are late. 

June Atkinson, former state superintendent, said that in prior years, delays were caused by changes to testing standards. In those cases, DPI asked for a waiver from the State Board of Education to ensure those scores did not affect students’ final grades. 

“The operating procedure has been to let school districts know that ahead of time, then each central office to let teachers know who were affected by that decision,” Atkinson said. 

DPI uses two testing vendors, N.C. State University and Questar, to grade open-ended portions of final exams — some are End of Course tests (EOCs) and others are NC Final Exams (NCFEs). End of Grade tests (EOGs) and many EOCs are entirely multiple-choice and scores processed quickly since a scanner, located at the school or central office, reads answers immediately.

Howard said her department stays in touch with the vendors and that they had a meeting Wednesday morning. Howard said there are rare instances where schools or districts make errors in the presentation of the tests which slows down the process. 

For both vendors, Howard said “the clock starts ticking” for them to complete grading the day after they receive the scores. Vendors have four to five business days to complete grading online exams and seven to eight business days for paper exams. 

Schools are required by State Board standards to administer their final exams within five days of the last school day for students.

“There’s a really tight timeline,” Atkinson said.

The timeframe for schools to get the scores to the testing vendors depends on whether or not the test is taken with paper and pencil or online. For online tests, scores are immediately sent to the vendors. 

After the vendors grade the tests, the scores are sent to districts who then have to send them to each school. 

“There’s several places where the wheel could run off the track, so to speak,” Atkinson said. 

Buncombe County Public Schools spokesperson Stacia Harris said they expect around a five-day turnaround for the exams that have open answers. 

“We definitely don’t consider it a delay,” Harris said. “It’s just part of our procedure now. We just have to have some good practices in place to get all grades in in a timely fashion.”

She said principals in Buncombe county are responsible for assigning the task of recording grades when they return. If teachers have left for the summer, there are 12-month employees on staff, like data managers, who handle the scores. 

“We would, of course, welcome some flexibility with testing, but we’re operating under the state mandate and figured out a procedure that makes it work,” she said.

Howard said state assessments can be administered until June 23rd and grading will last until the end of the month.


Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.