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Newly required tests aren’t as numerous as you may think

From Rebecca Garland, chief academic officer for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, in response to “Stop hyper-testing in N.C.” (March 20 Viewpoint):

This is a time of rapid change for our schools, and that’s why accurate communication is so important. The time has come to put to rest the misconceptions about new common exams developed by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. Misinformation about these exams has been repeated frequently.

The exams are designed so that schools and districts can have a measure of the growth that students have made during their time with a specific teacher. The exams also can be final exams for students. Teachers, including 35 from Charlotte-Mecklenburg, have been heavily involved in developing them. Without these common exams, we have no objective way to measure the value teachers give their students, and this is an important part of North Carolina’s teacher evaluation model.

The new exams are designed only for subjects that are not tested by existing state assessments. NCDPI has never planned to implement 177 new tests across the state. In 2012-13, there were 35 new tests, but for many different subjects that have not been traditionally tested. We will add an additional nine next year.

A breakdown of the new requirements

Of the 35 added this year, six are specifically to meet the needs of students in the Occupational Course of Study, which is designed for students with disabilities. There also are exams designed for various implementation plans for the new standards. For example, a typical high school junior would take only one math common exam. The district will select from four options based on decisions they have made locally about transitioning to the new standards.

At the high school level, new tests should replace current tests that teachers are using for final exams. For example, a World History student who previously spent 90 minutes taking a teacher-made final exam will now spend that time taking a common exam in World History. No additional testing time is required.

At the middle school level there will be five new assessments – two in science (grades 6 and 7) and three in social studies (one each for grades 6-8). This ensures no students are left out when we look at teacher impact on student growth. For example, a seventh-grade teacher may teach English to 25 students and social studies to 60 other students. Should we ignore those 60 when we look at how students are growing? The answer, of course, is no.

At the elementary level, there are three new exams – fourth-grade social studies and science and fifth-grade social studies – that schools may use if they need to or if they choose. A school would need to use these only if they had elementary school teachers who do not teach English Language Arts or mathematics. For example, if a fifth-grade teacher were to teach only science and social studies, the school would need a way to measure that teacher’s impact on students. That’s where these new exams would be used.

We owe it to our students, teachers, parents and the broader community to ensure that we fairly, accurately and reasonably assess student and teacher performance. We are very aware of the need to limit the time devoted to testing and are working hard to balance the need for information about performance with the need to spend as little time as possible on testing.

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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.

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