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Morrison: New state tests waste tax dollars

CMS chief says he’ll try to counteract testing craze

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The barrage of new state tests being rolled out this year is “an egregious waste of taxpayer dollars” that won’t help kids, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Superintendent Heath Morrison said Thursday.

He joins a band of superintendents across the country fighting the push to use student testing to rate teachers and schools. Earlier this month, the superintendent in Montgomery County, Md., called for a three-year moratorium on standardized testing and an end to “the insanity” of evaluating teachers on test scores, according to The Washington Post.

Morrison said he’s working with Montgomery County Superintendent Joshua Starr, as well as a network of district leaders inside and outside North Carolina, to try to counteract the national testing craze.

“I am very troubled by the amount of testing we are being asked to do,” Morrison told The Charlotte Observer editorial board. “We can teach our way to the top, but we cannot test our way to the top. We’re getting ready in the state of North Carolina to put out 177 new exams.”

Those tests will take too much time from teaching, won’t be effective for improving student or teacher performance, and will soon be replaced by new exams tied to national Common Core standards, Morrison said.

It’s a sharp change of direction for the leader of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Just two years ago, then-Superintendent Peter Gorman spent county money to create dozens of new exams to be used for teacher ratings, only to have them scrapped after he resigned in 2011.

Morrison took office in July and has been meeting with citizens and teachers, including some who opposed Gorman’s testing program. In recent weeks, Morrison has raised questions about the new state tests, but has mostly focused on the problems created by unknown new tests and delayed scores for students.

In a wide-ranging discussion with the Observer’s editorial staff and a reporter, he was emphatic about his opposition to the current plan.

“Why are we in a rush to do all of this testing, then use it for accountability for schools and use it for accountability for teachers?” he said.

Starr got national attention for his testing remarks at a Washington Post Live education panel earlier this month. According to a Post education blog, Starr said national education leaders are trying to do too much too fast, and concluded “We need a three-year moratorium on all standardized tests.”

Morrison said he’s part of a consortium with Starr in suburban D.C., along with leaders of districts in Fairfax County, Va., and Gwinett and Fulton counties in suburban Atlanta. He said he and other North Carolina superintendents have met with state Superintendent June Atkinson to raise their concerns that the new exams will do more harm than good.

Morrison said CMS has little power to stop the testing on its own. North Carolina has received a $400 million federal Race to the Top grant that includes the use of testing for teacher evaluations, he said, and “we couldn’t decide to pull out – there would be some pretty intense consequences for that.”

Morrison said he supports valid tests that measure how well students have mastered material and how well teachers have presented it, but he said the state needs more time to develop tests that deserve public confidence. He also called for more emphasis on improving teacher quality, rather than identifying those with low test-score ratings.

“We’re in this idea that we’re going to find all these bad teachers and we’re going to test them and we’re going to get them out of the field,” he said. “Well, where is the quality influx to get into the field?”

In 2013, Morrison and the school board will refine a long-term plan for CMS. Morrison has created 22 task forces to study key issues, including one on an accountability system, which could include how to move ahead with testing and ratings.

Helms: 704-358-5033
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