General Assembly needs to revisit Read to Achieve, A-F school grades in 2015 session

North Carolina legislators from both parties have denounced the negative effects of high-stakes standardized tests on North Carolina schools and students. But the General Assembly’s own actions continue to make the situation worse. Exhibits 1 and 2: Read to Achieve and A-F school grading.

These pieces of legislation do not increase the number of tests that students must take. But they dramatically raise the consequences attached to those tests. As a result, they have sparked major increases in practice testing, test prep, and test-related stress, making it far more difficult for North Carolina students to develop the love of learning they will need to carry them through life.

The most immediate and effective way for North Carolinians to reduce the negative effects of testing on our students, schools and teachers is to convince our state legislators to repeal these two measures and replace them with strategies that genuinely help children learn.

Both Read to Achieve and A-F grading were pushed through the General Assembly in a manner that allowed for little discussion or debate. As a result, many legislators have not considered them in detail. Much of our work will involve informing legislators about the negative effects both Read to Achieve and A-F grading are having on North Carolina students.

MecklenburgACTS.org will be sending out information about statewide efforts in coming weeks. In the meantime, we have compiled information on problems with the Read to Achieve legislation here. An account of the problems with A-F grading can be found here. Teachers and principals should be able to provide plenty of additional information about the effect of these two pieces of legislation on individual schools.

Succeeding in this task will require grassroots efforts in individual schools, communities and legislative districts. If you would like to help with this effort in your school or community, please e-mail us at info@mecklenburgacts.org.

 

 

 

 

 

2013-14 Test Refusals Successful

Families from several North Carolina counties successfully refused End of Grade tests for the 2013-14 school year. Most of the refusing families persuaded school officials to allow students to read during the testing time, although some had to be more persistent than others.

Goals for next year include spreading the word about test refusal, working with more schools and districts to create appropriate procedures, and working with state legislators to create a “refusal code” for refused tests (currently, refused tests are graded as though they had been been taken, and receive the lowest possible score).

Anyone interested in helping with this work should contact us at info@mecklenburgacts.org.

For more information, visit our Opt-Out/Refusal pages.

Much Read to Achieve Work Ahead

The grim saga of Read to Achieve continues.

On Thursday, June 5, the North Carolina House voted 73-40 to concur with H230, the Senate’s proposed changes to Read to Achieve (see here for bill text and vote tallies). Particular thanks go to the bipartisan group of House members who voted not to concur, in an effort to create an opportunity for further discussion about this highly important (and currently highly destructive) piece of education policy.

The changes make some improvements to Read to Achieve. They exempt a wider range of special needs students from the retention requirements, provide greater flexibility regarding summer school, and make some modifications to testing and portfolio requirements.

In our estimation, however, the changes will do little to improve the experience of most third graders in the coming year.

The high stakes still attached to reading test scores will continue to spawn unacceptable amounts of test prep and anxiety.

The changes do nothing for the many children who are still likely to face mandatory retention under the program, despite copious evidence that for most children, retention does more harm than good.

The program also continues to lack needed investments in reading interventions in earlier grades.

MecklenburgACTS.org will continue to work to mobilize parents across North Carolina to press for broader changes to Read to Achieve in the next legislative session. If you are interested in helping to mobilize parents at your school or in your community, please e-mail us at info@mecklenburgacts.org.

More information about Read to Achieve, including perspectives from experts and from parents, can be found in the Read to Achieve section of this website.

Senate Read to Achieve Action Not Bold Enough

Students, parents and teachers across North Carolina call on the General Assembly to take bolder steps to rectify the widespread problems with the Read to Achieve legislation.

This morning, the Senate Committee on Education/Higher Education proposed some changes to Read to Achieve. But while these changes will provide some welcome relief for children with disabilities, they will do little to reduce the amount of extra testing Read to Achieve requires, the added pressure it has put on third graders, or the harm it threatens to do to some of North Carolina’s most vulnerable eight-year-olds. Stronger action is needed.

Read to Achieve contains three fundamental flaws.

1. It requires that children be retained based on test scores. Decades of research have clearly established that in most cases retention does children more harm than good. A decision of such importance should be made by parents and teachers who work closely with children and know them as individuals, rather than by a piece of legislation passed in Raleigh.

2. It makes life-changing decisions based on standardized test scores. While standardized tests can provide useful information, they measure only a narrow set of the skills needed to read avidly and well. When standardized test scores are used in high-stakes decisions such as retention or mandatory summer school, schools often focus all their efforts on the skills the tests can measure. Rather than reading and exploring rich, engaging texts, students at all levels are forced into a dull routine of worksheets and skills practice that diminishes both their love of reading and their interest in school. While the 36 “portfolio” tests created in response to the legislation exacerbated this situation, the fundamental problem lies in the high-stakes use of test scores.

3. It begins its most significant intervention far too late.
Successful reading requires a strong foundation at an early age. Rather than imposing penalties in third grade, legislation should focus efforts and funds on providing additional supports for challenged readers starting in kindergarten or earlier.

We do not believe that our General Assembly needs or wishes to punish children in order to focus the attention of adults on the problems with reading that North Carolina children face.

If members of the General Assembly wish to help children learn to read, and to reduce out-of-control testing, they will take a close look at the results of their own actions. We call on them to draw on the experience and advice of North Carolina teachers, students and parents. They should remove the threat of test-based retention, postpone the “portfolio” requirements until a set of non-test-based portfolio items can be developed, and find resources to provide more intensive support for struggling readers in earlier years.

North Carolina Parents call on General Assembly to end Read to Achieve

MecklenburgACTS.org, Fix Read to Achieve Now and a coalition of concerned North Carolina parents call on our fellow parents across the state to urge their state representatives to end the disastrous Read to Achieve program, and to invest instead in more efficient and effective strategies for improving reading skills, such as prekindergarten and additional assistance in earlier grades.

We all share the goal of having all of North Carolina’s children read well by the end of third grade. But the Read to Achieve legislation focuses on two highly problematic strategies: student retention and the use of standardized test scores to make high-stakes decisions for individual students. Research makes clear that both of these strategies do more harm than good.

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The focus on high-stakes testing and punitive consequences have forced third grade classes across the state into a morale-killing focus on stressful test prep. It has also saddled districts with a set of badly-planned and underfunded mandates that will do little to provide struggling readers with the kind of help they need. While some of these problems have been magnified by the hasty passage and rocky implementation of Read to Achieve, they are rooted in the law’s fundamental flaws.

Legislators have suggested that they plan to modify Read to Achieve to exempt more special needs students from the law’s requirements. This is not sufficient. No child should be judged solely by a test score, and no child should be retained because of the mandate of a top-down state program that does not consider individual circumstances.

Our North Carolina legislators should not be using problematic strategies copied from other states to micromanage North Carolina’s schools and students. Our children deserve better. Read to Achieve needs to go.

If you’re ready to act, the Fix Read to Achieve Now site has sample letters, information about finding your legislators and a petition that calls on legislators to stop treating children as test scores, and instead let teachers and parents determine what is best for each individual child.

For this to become a statewide movement, parents need to be sharing this information within their own communities. If you would like to help spread the word in your community, please e-mail info@mecklenburgacts.org. Or look for us at the Community Rally for Public Education at Charlotte’s Marshall Park, Saturday, May 10, noon-2 p.m.

 

References

An account of the problems with Read to Achieve can be found at:

http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/04/30/3823800/politics-driven-read-to-achieve.html?sp=%2F99%2F108%2F

A summary of the problems with retention can be found at: http://www.nasponline.org/communications/spawareness/Grade Retention.pdf

A summary of the problems with test-based retention programs can be found at:

http://www.fairtest.org/first-do-no-harm-response-proposed-new-york-city-t

Contact State Lawmakers about Read to Achieve

The Read to Achieve program has been a disaster for many North Carolina third graders. The requirement that third graders pass the state reading test or an approved equivalent in order to be promoted to fourth grade has turned many third-grade classes into stress-filled exercises in test prep.

A more comprehensive description of problems with Read to Achieve can be found in the Raleigh News & Observer article: “Politics-driven Read to Achieve a path to failure for NC.”

State legislators have already been hearing from their constituents about the problems the legislation has caused. But the more people they hear from, the more likely they are to make changes. Please contact your state senator and representative, and ask them to change Read to Achieve to stop retaining students based on test scores, and instead fund policies with well-established track records of improving student reading, such as pre-kindergarten and supports for struggling readers before they reach third grade.

You can find out who represents you in Raleigh on the Fix Read to Achieve Now site, here. There is a sample letter here. But if you have a personal story to tell, that would be even more effective.

If you want to keep up with what’s going on with Read to Achieve, please sign the Fix Read to Achieve Now petition, which calls on lawmakers to stop treating students as test scores. Signing the petition will put you on their newsletter list, and they will be sending out suggestions for next steps soon.

Thanks, and please pass the word. It will take all of us working together to get this done!

Families call on N.C. officials to alter handling of refused tests

This spring, North Carolinians will join tens of thousands of American families who have chosen to exercise their rights as parents and refuse the high-stakes state tests that have done so much damage to American public education.

Families have begun to notify schools that their children will refuse to take this spring’s End of Grade tests.

MecklenburgACTS.org and the members of Opt Out of State Tests – North Carolina call on state and district leaders to address this situation in a manner that puts the interests of children first.

Experience in other states has made it clear that the most student-centered way to handle test refusal is to allow refusing students to engage in alternative activities – such as reading – in spaces not connected to testing.

Experience in these states has also made it clear that it is inappropriate – and possibly illegal – to require students to “sit and stare” in testing rooms while testing is going on. It is also inappropriate to insist that students stay at home during the test and makeup period

We understand that schools are required to administer the tests. However, no law requires schools or districts to go to extreme or punitive lengths to force children to take the tests when their families have formally stated that they will refuse. Efforts to punish or intimidate children because of decisions made by their families would violate any educational ethic.

In addition, we call on the North Carolina General Assembly to take steps to officially mark the refused tests as “refused,” following the procedure used in other states.

Currently, refused tests are scored as though they had been taken, resulting in the lowest possible score. Those low scores are figured into school proficiency ratings, although not into teacher ratings.

Families are prepared to take responsibility for any direct consequences to their children that may result from test refusal. But it would be blatantly unfair for the state to punish schools for those decisions.

North Carolina has no official provisions that allows families to opt out of or refuse tests. However, the Supreme Court has made it clear that parents have the right to make key educational decisions for their children, even when those decisions conflict with state requirements. Opt-out/refusal families have concluded that it is time for us to exercise those rights.

Members of our groups met with State Superintendent of Education June Atkinson on Thursday, April 24, to discuss the handling of test refusal, as well as the problems of testing in general. We had a productive discussion, and look forward to positive actions as a result.

For more information about this effort, please visit the “Opt out/Refusal” section of this website.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the low scores given to refused tests would be figured into teacher growth ratings as well as school proficiency rates. We apologize for the error, which resulted from our misinterpretation of a NCDPI communication.

 

Upcoming Education Events

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As the state legislature gets ready to go back into session, and as testing season gears up, education-related events are multiplying. If North Carolina education is to improve, we the public have to let our voices be heard. Please attend if you can – especially the May 10 rally.

Monday, April 21

“How Did Testing Get Out of Control and What Can We Do About It?”

Alexander Graham Middle School, 7-8:30 p.m.

This CMS parent-sponsored forum will examine out-of-control testing in North Carolina schools, focusing partly but not entirely on the Read to Achieve legislation that has caused such disruption in this year’s third grade classes.

Speakers will be Dr. Bruce Taylor of UNC Charlotte on the uses and misues of testing, State Representative Rob Bryan on what the legislature is doing regarding testing, and Pamela Grundy of MecklenburgACTS.org on national efforts to reduce high-stakes testing and how North Carolinians can join in. For more information, click here.

Saturday, May 10

Regional Rally for Education

Marshall Park: noon-2 p.m.

Teacher-sponsored rally to support more sensible state policies in areas such as teacher pay and evaluation, school staffing, class size, testing and other educational issues. MecklenburgACTS.org is a supporting sponsor, and we hope to get a big turnout in order to let state legislators know how serious their voters are about improving the conditions in which our state’s teachers work, and our state’s children learn. We will have a “testing section” at the rally that specifically addresses testing.

April 10, 22 and 23

MeckEd Advocacy Training

April 10, 8-9:30 a.m. in Center City

April 22, 9-10 a.m. at Morrison YMCA

April 23, 10-11 a.m. in Cornelius

MeckEd-sponsored advocacy training sessions focused on how to encourage state legislators to raise average teacher pay in North Carolina. For more information, click here. They have also posted an online advocacy toolkit.

The voices of parents and families matter. For an inspiring story on how parent advocacy made a difference in New York, helping to end a program that would have been a significant intrusion on student privacy, see “Parent power wins! NY severs its relationship with InBloom.”

 

 

 

Charlotte education rally May 10

There will be a major education rally here in Charlotte on Saturday, May 10, from noon-2 p.m. in Marshall Park downtown. Having a large turnout will be important – please plan to come. More details soon . . .

Also check out the petition started by “Fix Read to Achieve Now,” a group of parents seeking to eliminate the misuse of test scores in the third grade Read to Achieve program. Their website and petition can be found here.

 

Opt-out information meeting in Charlotte March 16

MecklenburgACTS.org will be holding an information meeting on Sunday, March 16, at 4 p.m. for families who would like to discuss opting out of/refusing End of Grade tests and North Carolina Final Exams. The meeting will take place  at 1713 Tippah Ave., in Charlotte’s Plaza-Midwood neighborhood.

If you plan to come, please RSVP to info@mecklenburgacts.org.

We have posted a number of opt-out/refusal information sheets in the Opting out section of the MecklenburgACTS.org website.

North Carolina residents, please consider signing our petition in support of the North Carolina opt-out families and their call for more sensible assessments.

For more information about the reasons behind opting out/refusing, please see the Raleigh News & Observer editorial written by MecklenburgACTS.org co-chair Pamela Grundy and Wake County mother Ilina Ewen to explain why their families will be opting out of/refusing this year’s state tests.