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State Ed. Leaders' Plan To Rethink School Testing Moves Forward

Photo: The state Department of Public Instruction revealed a dramatic drops in student performance on standardized tests.

State education leaders are slowly rolling out their ideas on how to reduce high-stakes testing in public schools.

The State Board of Education voted on Wednesday to conduct a study in the coming school year to examine whether their proposals are doable.

The state is considering whether it’s effective to give third-through-eighth graders three to four short Math and English language arts/reading tests throughout the year, instead of one big end-of-grade exam. They argue that the interim tests would give teachers a better understanding of how their students are doing and how to help them.

State Superintendent June Atkinson said the idea could allow school districts to get rid of some of their local assessments as well.

“Let’s see what works, let’s see what will not work, so we can be very deliberate and North Carolina can continue its leadership to get to another generation of assessment,” Atkinson said.

The study could impact about 7,000-9,000 fifth and sixth graders in school districts across the state. Students will receive at least three tests during the school year, as well as a shortened version of the end-of-grade exams.

Members of the board of education said the study will help them answer some critical questions.

“When we’re talking about two, or three, or four tests rather than one, do they all become high-stakes tests?” asked member Patricia Willoughby. “What happens to those students who don’t do well on test two, but show that they’re indeed proficient in that content area?”

At the end of the next school year, education officials will decide whether to continue to expand the program the following year. Their proposal suggests a state-wide pilot program by 2017-18.

Officials say they'll have to make sure that any proposed assessments satisfy state and federal requirements. 

“It will take time and we as a board will need to struggle over every aspect of the decisions that we’re making, and be willing to say no if it doesn’t work,” said A.L. Collins, Vice Chair of the State Board of Education.

Reema Khrais joined WUNC in 2013 to cover education in pre-kindergarten through high school. Previously, she won the prestigious Joan B. Kroc Fellowship. For the fellowship, she spent a year at NPR where she reported nationally, produced on Weekends on All Things Considered and edited on the digital desk. She also spent some time at New York Public Radio as an education reporter, covering the overhaul of vocational schools, the contentious closures of city schools and age-old high school rivalries.
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