North Carolina’s state school board approved a measure last week to eliminate three tests given to more than 270,000 students annually, a change in policy that will save $1.2 million just as state education officials are grappling with how to address a growing budget crisis.
The move also comes as parents, educators, and state legislators are raising concerns that testing is eating into valuable instructional time and putting a strain on students.
The consolidation will not affect the state’s accountability plan, and end-of-grade exams for 3rd through 8th graders will continue.
“I’m glad that we were able to eliminate these tests without undermining our state’s important commitment to accountability,” state board Chairman Philip J. Kirk Jr. said in a statement. “Our students have experienced tremendous gains in achievement, and we’re committed to doing what we have to do to ensure public confidence is maintained.”
Beginning next school year, the state will no longer use the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, which had been given to a random sample of about 6,000 students in 5th and 8th grades. The Open-Ended Assessments, a written-response test aligned with state standards and taken by some 190,000 students in grades 4 and 8 each year, will also be abolished. The High School Comprehensive Tests in reading and mathematics—given to about 77,000 10th graders each year—will be all but eliminated; about 20 schools serving disadvantaged students in the Title I program will continue using the exam as required by the U.S. Department of Education.
Leading the Way?
“North Carolina is usually very progressive when it comes to assessment, and it seems the state is being progressive again,” said Wayne Martin, the director of the State Education Assessment Center for the Council of Chief State School Officers, based in Washington. “Given the concerns about the amount of time students are being tested in school, and a budget concern, North Carolina may just be leading a movement that other states may be considering.”
Some California lawmakers, in fact, are promoting a bill that would reduce the amount of testing time for students in that state. (“Calif. Considering Assessment Role Reversal,” June 13, 2001.)
Some educators and opponents of high-stakes testing cheered North Carolina’s decision last week, and urged the state’s officials to continue to ease the burden testing places on schools.
“Finally, the board has realized that students in North Carolina are overtested,” said Chris Fitzsimon, the executive director of the Common Sense Foundation in Raleigh, a nonprofit advocacy organization that is against high-stakes testing. “But unfortunately, [education officials] continue to cling to the notion that we need to evaluate students based on one end-of-grade standardized test. This is a wise decision [by the state board], but it doesn’t address the fundamental problems we have with testing in this state.”
North Carolina’s accountability program came under fire last month on discovery of a glitch in the setting of passing scores on the state mathematics tests. The board and state schools chief Michael E. Ward ordered an audit of the testing and accountability program to determine the soundness of the system. ( “Testing Glitch Prompts N. Carolina To Order System Audit,” May 30, 2001.)
A version of this article appeared in the June 13, 2001 edition of Education Week as Citing Instructional Time, N.C. Scraps 3 Assessments