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Stop hyper-testing in N.C.

By Pamela Grundy and Carol Sawyer
Special to the Observer

Today, UNC Charlotte will host one of the nation’s most prominent and insightful critics of the standardized testing madness that has swept our country.

Diane Ravitch, welcome!

We wish we had better news.

Despite the plethora of evidence that documents the harm that high-stakes standardized tests have done to American education, North Carolina is about to enter an era of hyper-testing that will take more time, more energy and a great deal more money away from real teaching and learning.

Last week’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board meeting highlighted the testing tsunami heading towards our children. CMS staff described the vast amounts of new technology that the district will have to purchase for students to take upcoming Common Core tests online. Not only will these requirements pull funds away from other aspects of teaching and learning, they mean that CMS’s technology purchasing decisions will be driven not by what technology will best help teachers teach and children learn, but by what will be required to take the mandatory online exams.

The ensuing discussion also referenced the 177 new end-of-course exams about to be rolled out statewide, a massive repeat of the testing madness that we in Mecklenburg County experienced when CMS launched its misguided effort to test every child in every subject in every grade.

For the next few years, it became clear, North Carolina students will spend enormous amounts of time preparing for and taking a shifting array of unwieldy, unproven and expensive tests.

Superintendent Heath Morrison delivered the kicker. These new exams are unlikely to measure anything but content (which is essentially all that standardized exams can evaluate). And content isn’t the most important component of our children’s education.

“Where I think we need to be is measuring skills,” Morrison said, pointing to “twenty-first century skills” such as communication, collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving. “I worry that in the mania of all this testing, that we’re not going to have the time to actually stress these skills.”

Bingo.

These exams are multiplying, despite their obvious shortcomings, because they are backed by a powerful combination of political and financial interests. The only way to stop them is for voters to fight back.

We at MecklenburgACTS are launching a new effort to do just that, based on the public outcry that successfully turned back CMS’s effort to test every child in every subject in every grade. We’re starting now, as we did then, with an online petition.

The petition calls on North Carolina’s state legislators and school officials to minimize the damage this misguided and expensive quest to measure the wrong things will do to our children’s education and thus their future. While much of the responsibility for testing madness rests with the federal government, our state leaders can make some positive changes now.

They can stop implementing the 177 new tests, except as limited pilots.

They can focus instead on forms of evaluation that assess the actual work that students do throughout a school year, and that genuinely assess 21st century skills such as innovation, critical thinking and problem-solving, rather than test-taking ability. This is the kind of accountability our country needs.

Most important, they can eliminate all test-based, high-stakes decisions for students, teachers and schools until a stable set of tests has been in place for multiple years, and their measurements have been proven reliable.

As Morrison noted, “When you have that much change in such a short period of time, how can you get any data from one year to the next that people can feel sure about?” Testing madness does its greatest damage when unreliable test results have out-of-proportion real-world consequences – a situation that we have all seen produce a narrowed focus on tested material, the spread of teaching to the test, and a series of cheating scandals nationwide.

Diane Ravitch, once a major backer of the testing requirements of No Child Left Behind, has shown us all that it is possible for courageous individuals to recognize their mistakes and work to remedy them. There is no shame in admitting mistakes – only in stubbornly pursuing policies that have been convincingly shown to do more harm than good.

We call on our state leaders to follow Ravitch’s lead: to acknowledge the harmful limitations of high-stakes testing and to move in a direction that will deliver more positive results for our students and our state.

Pamela Grundy and Carol Sawyer are co-chairs of MecklenburgACTS.org, a grassroots coalition of parents and other citizens working to build community commitment to equity and excellence in all schools.
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The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email local@charlotteobserver.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.

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