More than 20 state tests could go away under deal approved in NC legislature

Updated Aug. 26 2019, with developments.

North Carolina lawmakers have reached a deal that will eliminate more than 20 state exams and calls for reducing the number of local tests that are given to students.

The House and Senate both overwhelmingly voted Monday night to approve a testing reduction bill that comes in response to the long-voiced complaints that students are over-tested. The biggest change is the elimination of the N.C. Final Exams in the 2020-21 school year.

Senate Bill 621 will go to Gov. Roy Cooper for his signature.

“It reduces testing and gives more class time,” Rep. LInda Johnson, a Cabarrus County Republican, said before the Aug. 26 vote.

The House and Senate had come up with competing plans to reduce testing. A bipartisan group of lawmakers released Aug. 21 a compromise version that has parts of both plans but doesn’t eliminate as many tests as proposed by the House.

“I think this is a fair compromise,” Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, a Wilkes County Republican and author of the House plan, said in an interview Aug. 23. “It’s not as aggressive as what the House proposed.”

Both bodies had included in their individual plans the elimination of the N.C. Final Exams, which are more than 20 state tests given to students of teachers who can’t use another state exam to evaluate their performance. The tests are given in a range of grades, mainly in high school.

“I am pleased that a compromise has been reached that includes the removal of (N.C. Final Exams),” said Dane West, a teacher at Knightdale High School. “There is still work to be done, but this is a good start.”

Other provisions of the bill include:

Requiring school districts to reduce the number of local tests they give if students spend more time on them than state exams;

Prohibiting school districts from requiring students to do a high school graduation project unless they provide local funding to help reimburse costs spent by low-income students. The project involves students researching and writing a paper.

The House had previously proposed a total elimination of the graduation project. Elmore said requiring the local funding is a fair compromise that will help children who can’t afford to pay out of their own pocket to complete a graduation project.

The new version also drops wording that the House had included to eliminate the four remaining state end-of-course exams typically taken by high school students. The House wanted to replace the tests with the ACT now taken by all of the state’s high school juniors or by a “nationally recognized assessment of high school achievement and college readiness.”

Elmore said some lawmakers were concerned that dropping the end-of-course exams would mean switching to a national test that’s not aligned with state standards.

The compromise also drops the House plan to replace the state end-of-grade exams given in grades 3-8 in reading, math and science with the N.C. Check-Ins, which are shorter exams given to students three times a year in each subject.

The state recently received federal permission to pilot a program to replace the end-of-grade exams with the N.C. Personalized Assessment Tool, which is similar to the Check-Ins. The bill calls for studying the effectiveness of the pilot.

The bill drew praise from the N.C. Chamber of Commerce, which had previously voiced concerns with the House proposal.

“On the portions of the bill concerning testing, the legislature is taking a thoughtful approach,” Gary J. Salamido, president and CEO of the chamber, said in a statement Aug. 22. “More study and analysis, as mandated in this legislation, will be a good start.”

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.