Think tank’s task a tall order

Feb. 23, 2013 @ 02:35 PM

A lot of smart people are starting work on an ambitious project for North Carolina public schools that aims to assess and track the personal and educational development of children in kindergarten through third grade.

But they want to do it without hindering teachers and without making it yet another high-stakes test.

It’s a worthy goal, funded by $70 million in federal Race to the Top grant money. If successful, it would make North Carolina one of just a few states in the nation that report and track results of kindergarten readiness assessments.

On Friday, North Carolina schools Superintendent June Atkinson rallied a group of scholars and scientists at Duke University as they kicked off their six-month voluntary enterprise.

“We have to make sure that the assessments we use take children to a better place, not hold them back,” she said.

We don’t envy these think tank members the job ahead of them. Whatever they develop is expected to gather useful data without turning into a stressful time sink for teachers and students alike.

However, with a group that includes strong thinkers from universities across the state, we’re confident that they’re up to the task set before them by Atkinson and the think tank’s co-chairs, John Pruett of the state Department of Public Instruction and Kenneth Dodge of Duke University.

It is especially heartening to know that, going in, the group’s leaders already are well aware that they don’t face a simple task in trying to elegantly assess a child’s reading and math skills, as well as their physical well being, social and emotional development, approaches to learning, language development, and cognition and general knowledge.

That’s a lot to measure.

“We know if we’re not successful in that task, we’ll create something that won’t be helpful, might be harmful, or won’t be used at all,” Pruett said.

In six months, the think tank is expected to present their ideas for the assessment to the state Board of Education.

We’re intrigued to see what they propose.