State board hears testing concerns

Thanks to everyone who contacted members of the North Carolina Board of Education to recommend that they eliminate the problematic test-score-based Standard 6 from the state teacher evaluation.

Board members seem to have heard you loud and clear.

“I doubt we’re going to find anyone who’s opposed to this based on the emails we’ve received,” board member Eric Davis told DPI’s Tom Tomberlin, who presented the recommendation. “You’re the most popular person in North Carolina.”

Board members had a generally favorable discussion of the recommendation, and should vote on it at their March meeting.

This is only a first step. Eliminating Standard 6 will not eliminate any tests. For now, the state will continue the problematic strategy of giving teachers “value added measurement” (VAM) scores based on their students’ test results – despite widespread evidence that VAM scores are both unreliable and unfair.

Without Standard 6, however, the influence of these scores should be significantly reduced.

Eliminating Standard 6 will also open the door for a re-examination of the many additional tests and other evaluations that have been piled on North Carolina students and teachers in recent years – particularly the North Carolina Final Exams, the Analysis of Student Work endeavor and numerous tests in grades K-2, where standardized testing is particularly intrusive and inaccurate.

MecklenburgACTS recommends that the state stop requiring any standardized test that is not mandated by the federal government. (the feds require the reading, math and science EOG tests in grades 3-8 and the high school EOC tests in math, English and biology). The limited information these tests provide is not worth the time, energy and funding that goes into them. Let’s get back to teaching and learning.

Coming months should bring further discussion of the number and nature of these tests. Please take any opportunity you can find to inform your representatives on the state school board, at the Department of Public Instruction and in the General Assembly about the many problems with excessive testing.

More details about the problems with high-stakes testing and with VAM scores can be found here.



State school board to consider eliminating Standard 6

This week, the North Carolina State Board of Education can take the first step toward reducing the state-required testing that so burdens our students, teachers and schools.

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) has recommended that the Board eliminate Standard 6 from state teacher evaluations. This standard requires that every teacher in the state be given a ranking based on student standardized test results.

The addition of Standard 6, under pressure from the federal government, led to a massive expansion of standardized testing in our state. That expansion included the North Carolina Final Exams given in many high school courses, and many other exams in earlier grades.

NCDPI has not yet decided to eliminate any state tests. But eliminating Standard 6 will make it far more possible to reduce testing down the road. It is an extremely important step.

More detailed information on the problems with test-based teacher evaluation is available here. The text of the NCDPI recommendation is available here.

The board will take up the issue on Thursday, February 5.

Please contact board members to encourage them to take this important step. Information on the members, along with contact information, can be found here.

New opportunity to reduce state testing

Parents Across America has just issued a nationwide call for state legislatures to eliminate teacher ratings based on student test score growth, known as Value Added Measurement (VAM). Teacher VAM ratings are notoriously inaccurate. They have also been a major factor in the growth of state-required standardized tests.

North Carolina is a prime example. Requiring VAM ratings for all North Carolina teachers has helped spark an enormous expansion in state testing. This includes the North Carolina Final Exams and the early-grade Reading 3D assessments.

Thanks to the newly passed Every Student Succeeds Act, states now have the power to eliminate VAM from their teacher evaluation systems. This would allow them to dramatically reduce the number of state-required standardized tests.

Reducing state testing would make it possible for schools, teachers and students to put more time, money and energy into teaching and learning. It would also be an important step in making North Carolina a more teacher-friendly state.

Please stay tuned for more information on  efforts to encourage North Carolina’s educational leaders to make this crucial change. If you have questions, please e-mail us at

The PAA statement on the problems with VAM is here, and a one-page summary is here.


MecklenburgACTS joins OneMECK Coalition

MecklenburgACTS is pleased to be part of the recently formed OneMECK Coalition, which brings together organizations and individuals from across Mecklenburg County to:

  • Highlight the well-established link between diverse schools and academic success for all children
  • Support public policies and individual choices that promote mixed-income schools and neighborhoods – including a reimagined CMS pupil assignment plan
  • Challenge ourselves and our community to take responsibility for the ways in which we fail our children – especially children of color – who are separated and isolated in high-poverty schools and neighborhoods

We live in a community that has much to celebrate. A history of bold civic leadership has sparked an economic explosion and has won us a national reputation as one of the top cities in the U.S. to live and work. But our rising tide is not lifting all boats. We cannot achieve world-class greatness while our community remains divided by income and skin color, and while our rates of social mobility are among the lowest in the country.

The CMS school board is in the process of reviewing pupil assignment policies, and has an important policy committee meeting on this subject next week. OneMECK is calling on Mecklenburg County residents to e-mail board members in support of reducing racial and economic isolation in CMS schools. For information on how to e-mail board members, click here.

This is a key moment in the history of our community. Please let your voice be heard!

Senate Proposal Redefines “Low-Performing” Schools

Redefinition of “low-performing” schools and creation of “low-performing” districts would intensify teaching to the test, pave way for state, charter takeovers

Buried in the just-released Senate budget proposal is a measure that would significantly expand the number of state-designated “low-performing schools.” It would also designate entire districts as “low-performing” if the majority of schools in a particular district are deemed “low-performing.” (Proposed Senate Committee Substitute to HB97 §115C-105.37;105.39A).

This shift extends the “test-and-punish” approach that has defined national education policy for the past decade, a policy that has had profoundly negative effects on schools and students while failing to produce significant improvements in student performance. It would create even more pressure for North Carolina schools to teach to the test, while paving the way for dramatic but counter-productive disruptions to schools and districts. We should all urge our legislators to reject it.

In the proposal, “low-performing” would be defined as receiving a D or an F on the A-F scale and not exceeding expected growth. In current law, the “low-performing” designation goes to schools that have a majority of students score below grade level on state tests and fail to meet expected growth. Under the new proposal, the numbers of designated low-performing schools would grow. Required performance levels would rise: under the current A-F scale, any school with less than 55 percent of students scoring at grade level will receive either a D or an F. In addition, under the new proposal meeting expected growth would not keep a D or F school from being designated low-performing. A school would have to exceed expected growth to avoid this label.

With an A-F grading scale shift from a 15 to a 10 point scale, as is currently scheduled for the 2016-17 school year, even more schools would be designated as “low-performing,” since any school with less than 70 percent of students scoring at grade level would receive a D or an F.

Current law (§ 115C-105.37A-B) requires significant intervention in schools that are designated as continually low-performing. Approved strategies include transformation (working with the existing school); restart (turning the school over to a charter); turnaround (replacing much of the school’s staff and administration), and closure. The last three strategies involve particularly dramatic disruptions, none of which has proven consistently effective in improving student outcomes.

The current proposal requires “low-performing” districts to develop plans for improvement. Across the country, however, a number of state legislatures have used the excuse of low performance to take over entire districts – Little Rock, Arkansas, is one recent example. Such efforts have been far from successful: although New Orleans’ Recovery School District is nearly a decade old, for example, in the 2013-14 school year half its schools were rated “D” or “F” on the state scale, and just over 12 percent of high school graduates met the state’s minimum ACT test score requirements for admission to state four-year colleges.

Similar efforts are likely to be proposed here in North Carolina. Stay tuned.

Thanks for the calls!

Last week was a good one in terms of contacting Senators about testing and ESEA. Senators received many calls, and FairTest reported that more than 10,000 e-mails were sent as part of the April 8 action.

The Senate is expected to continue working on the legislation in the coming week, If you didn’t get a chance to call, you can still send an e-mail through FairTest, at:

You can use the FairTest letter, or write your own. When you get to the page, fill in your contact information and then click on “Start Writing.” A sample letter will appear. You can then choose to send that letter or write your own. It only takes a few minutes.

In addition, anyone who has children with special needs should read the recent Diane Ravitch post about ESEA and students with disabilities. If you share Diane’s concerns, you should call the offices of senators Lamar Alexander (202) 224-4944, Patty Murray (202) 224-2621, and Richard Burr (202) 224-3154 to tell them about your own experiences with testing.

Call Senators Today!

Today, April 8, will be part of a nationwide push to convince the U.S. Senate to cut back on federal testing requirements.

Please take a few minutes to phone North Carolina senators Richard Burr (202-224-3154) and Thom Tillis (202-224-6342). Efforts from across the country have already helped to move  Senators in a positive direction, as seen in the bipartisan agreement announced yesterday. Let’s help push them further. (If you’re not living in North Carolina, you can find your senators’ contact information here).

We will be using the following message. Please feel free to use it, modify it, or say something entirely different.

We support changes to No Child Left Behind that will promote a saner and less intrusive approach to public school testing. We are pleased that to see that the agreement announced yesterday removes most high-stakes consequences from federally required tests. But we urge senators to continue to press for a switch from annual to grade span testing. There are too many tests, and it will take federal action to significantly reduce their numbers.

If you aren’t living in North Carolina, you can find your Senators’ phone numbers and Twitter handles here:

For more information on the advantages of grade span testing, see A Better Approach to Tests, recently published in the Charlotte Observer. For more information about local efforts, e-mail

Contact Senators, Representatives on Testing, Funds

Once again, it’s time to contact federal representatives to urge them to pass more sensible education policies.

A proposal under consideration by the Senate Education Committee would reduce federally required testing by two-thirds, by shifting from annual to grade-span testing (statewide testing for one grade in elementary school, one grade in middle school and one grade in high school).

This is the best chance in years to make a significant dent in the high-stakes standardized testing inflicted on our students, teachers and schools.

An editorial in this morning’s Charlotte Observer, titled A Better Approach to Tests, explains why the shift matters.

Please call or e-mail North Carolina senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis to let them know that North Carolina parents, teachers and community members support a shift to grade-span testing in a reauthorized ESEA.

Specific stories about the problems that overtesting has caused at the schools you know best will have an especially strong effect. But just a simple “I urge you to support grade-span testing” would be great as well.

The U.S. House also has a highly problematic ESEA reauthorization bill on the floor, HR 5. It does nothing to improve testing policies. It also threatens to reduce assistance to low-income students and schools. The vote should be early next week (week of March 2). Please call or e-mail your House Representative and urge her/him to vote no.

You can find more details about the pros and cons of the full proposals on the website of Parents Across America.

The Senate proposal analysis is here

The House proposal analysis is here:

Thanks for being part of this challenging but necessary democratic process.

If you have any questions, please send them to

The Problems with A-F School Grades

The A-F school grades being released today provide a textbook example of the politically driven misuse of standardized testing.

Typically, A-F grades summarize how well a student has mastered the full range of material presented in a particular class. They combine performance in a variety of areas that may include tests, papers, presentations, class participation and other factors. They also reflect level of effort: students who work hard generally earn higher grades than those who do not.

As a result, the A-F scale has acquired significant cultural weight as a moral as well as an academic judgment.

Applying this culturally weighted scale to a school’s standardized test scores is far from “transparent.” Rather, it is inappropriate, misleading and harmful.

It is inappropriate because standardized test scores reflect not a broad-based year’s worth of work, but rather a single day’s performance on a single, relatively narrow measure.

It is misleading because even on this narrow measure, A-F grades do not accurately convey what an individual school has accomplished during a year. Teachers at schools where many students struggle can work far harder and accomplish far more than teachers at schools with more privileged students, yet have their schools given far lower grades.

It is harmful, because it forces schools to prominently display an inappropriate and misleading evaluation of their teachers and students, thus misinforming the public. In addition, the high stakes it attaches to test scores force schools to spend additional time and effort preparing for these narrowly-focused tests at the expense of material of equal or greater value, as well as student and teacher morale.

It is no surprise that the major backers of A-F grading also champion the dismantling of traditional public schools through measures such as private school vouchers.

Increasing the role played by test-score growth in the grades’ calculation would make them a somewhat more accurate reflection of a school’s test-related accomplishments. It would not, however, address the basic problem that comes with prominently grading schools based on a single day’s performance on a single, relatively narrow measure. Rather than simply tinkering with this problematic approach to school evaluation, legislators should scrap it.

For a concrete example of the problems of A-F grading at an individual school, see:

URGENT: Contact U.S. Senators on grade-span testing

We at join parent groups across the nation in calling for North Carolina’s Congressional representatives to support Option 1, as presented by Senator Lamar Alexander in his recently proposed ESEA reauthorization. Option 1 would allow states to switch from annual to grade-span testing (one grade in elementary, middle and high school) and provide additional flexibility regarding measures of student achievement.

We also urge parents and others who support Option 1 to contact their U.S. Senators to express that support before January 21, when the Senate Education Committee will hold hearings on the issue.

Like their counterparts across the country, parents here in Mecklenburg County are thoroughly familiar with the damage that an obsessive focus on high-stakes standardized testing has done to our children’s schools. Option 1 would offer students, teachers and schools much-needed relief from excessive testing and test prep, allowing them to get on with the real business of teaching and learning.

The negative consequences of the current federal testing requirements have been widely documented. They have sparked a test-prep-focused culture that has diverted time and resources from actual teaching and learning, narrowed the curriculum, robbed children of their love of learning, and driven excellent teachers out of the profession.

They have had especially negative effects on low-income students, students of color, English-language learners and students with special educational needs. Numerous studies have documented the role played by high-stakes testing in high dropout rates, the school-to-prison-pipeline, widespread cheating scandals, and the closing of under-resourced public schools that have anchored neighborhoods for generations.

While we appreciate the need for strong accountability, we believe this can be done using assessments that more accurately diagnose learning needs. A switch from high-stakes testing to systematic review of actual student work would provide superior evidence of academic progress while also enriching classroom experiences.

A bipartisan state task force has recently recommended a switch to grade-span testing. There is widespread agreement among North Carolinians that the current accountability system has not served our students well. It is time for a change.

More background on the negative effects of high stakes standardized testing can be found on the sites of FairTest, Parents Across America and MecklenburgACTS.