Politics & Government

‘This is overtesting.’ NC could eliminate 3 state exams in social studies and science.

Three state exams could be eliminated as part of an ongoing effort to reduce the amount of testing being given to North Carolina public school students.

State Department of Public Instruction officials said Wednesday they will recommend eliminating the N.C. Final Exams for science in fourth grade and for social studies in fourth and fifth grades. More than 23,000 students take these exams each year to assess how teachers are performing using the SAS EVAAS program.

“While the numbers might not look high in the scheme of 1.5 million students, this is overtesting,” said State Superintendent Mark Johnson. “Now you will have a handful of teachers that won’t have EVAAS, but I think in the scheme of wanting to reduce testing it is a good move.”

The tests could be eliminated as soon as this school year if approved by the State Board of Education.

The new test recommendations come after Johnson announced in January a series of testing changes that will go into effect this school year. Changes include state exams with fewer questions, allowing students to leave the exams sooner and easing rules requiring exam proctors.

Additional details were provided Wednesday, including how six to 10 questions will be cut on some state exams. It will shorten some state exams by an hour.

“Our goal is is to have as little testing time as possible,” said Tammy Howard, DPI director of accountability services.

Some steps will require state board approval, such as reducing the number of levels on state exams. Currently, students who score at Level 3, 4, or 5 are considered passing, with Level 1 and 2 as not proficient. DPI will recommend dropping Level 1.

Howard said that fewer questions means having fewer levels. Amid concerns from state board members, she said the results will still be valid with only four levels.

“We’re not going to reduce time if we don’t think we can stand behind it,” she said.

The elimination of the three final exams also requires state board approval.

The N.C. Final Exams were developed in response to the state winning a $400 million federal Race To the Top grant in 2010. The grant required recipients to keep track of how students progressed under individual teachers.

Race To The Top ended and the N.C. Final Exams are not required under state or federal law.

Johnson said DPI will recommend eliminating the three final exams because most of those 4th- and 5th-grade teachers can get growth data from other state exams. Only 105 of the more than 11,000 teachers n those grades get their EVAAS scores just from the social studies or science final exams.

State board member Olivia Oxendine said she’s concerned about the lack of equity for teachers who won’t have any exams to use to come up with a “robust EVAAS rating.” But Deputy Superintendent Eric Hall said they also need to consider the equity of requiring students to take those tests.

If the tests are eliminated, teachers could on their own give a final exam.

Johnson said that a broader discussion is needed about whether to eliminate the other N.C. Final Exams.

The repeated theme from Wednesday’s State Board of Education meeting is that more needs to be done to reduce the amount of high-stakes testing.

““We know we have to give tests to our students,” said Lisa Godwin, a State Teacher of the Year advisor to the state board. “Can we not combine testing with project-based learning or with some other means of assessing our students and not just relying on that one day and also moving away from the high-stakes testing where our schools are graded on that one day of testing?”

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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.