Reducing tests requires action by General Assembly

Significantly reducing the number of state-mandated standardized tests here in North Carolina will require action by the General Assembly, North Carolina State Superintendent June Atkinson told parents at last week’s MecklenburgACTS parent meeting.

The parents who attended the meeting focused their remarks less on the tests themselves than on the large amount of time that many schools spend preparing for the tests, and on the way that teacher and principal anxieties about test scores are passed on to children – sometimes explicitly, sometimes not. Some parents noted that the intense focus on testing and test scores had prompted them to move children to charter or private schools.

Dr. Atkinson predicted that some of those pressures will ease when the state Board of Education votes at its April meeting to eliminate Standard 6 and Standard 8 from the state evaluation forms. Those standards, which went into effect in 2012, made test score growth a mandatory part of every teacher and principal evaluation, and prompted both an expansion of testing and increased pressure on individual teachers and principals to raise test scores.

But while the change may reduce some of the pressure, Dr. Atkinson noted, several recently-passed state laws continue to give standardized test scores a central role in assessing students, schools and teachers, which makes it difficult to reduce the number of tests.

The Read to Achieve legislation requires that third grade students pass the reading test or an equivalent in order to be promoted to fourth grade, and also requires that students be regularly tested in reading the K-2 grades (currently most schools administer the state-recommended Reading 3-D assessments).

Additional state legislation requires teachers to have high growth scores in order to officially mentor other teachers, which makes it difficult to eliminate many of the North Carolina Final Exams that have been added to middle and high school courses.

The General Assembly-mandated A-F school grading system is based almost exclusively on test score proficiency. While it does not add any tests to the calendar, it dramatically raises the stakes on existing tests.

In addition, many districts mandate additional standardized tests, such as the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests administered in CMS.

Much work lies ahead.

Charlotte-area parents will have a chance to comment on proposed changes to the state testing system at an April 26 meeting at Mallard Creek High School. The recently passed Every Students Succeeds Act has given states some greater flexibility in designing assessments, including the possibility of piloting standards based on year-round performance, rather than a single set of tests. Stay tuned for more information.

North Carolina students are currently required to take the following standardized tests:

Federal: Standardized tests currently mandated by the federal government

Grades 3-8

English, Math End of Grade (EOG)

Grades 5 and 8 

Science EOG

High School

Biology, Math I, English II EOC (End-of-Course)

 

State: Additional standardized tests mandated by state legislation

Grades K-3

Reading (state recommends mClass Reading 3-D)

Grade 3

English Beginning of Grade (BOG)

Grades 4-8 

Social Studies North Carolina Final Exam (NCFE)

Grades 3-4 and 6-7

Science (NCFE)

High School

English I, II, IV (NCFE)

Math II, III, Discrete, Pre-Calculus (NCFE)

World History, History I, II, Civics and Economics (NCFE)

CTE Final Exams

PSAT

ACT – Grade 11

ACT WorkKeys – Grade 12 CTE students

 

CMS Local: Additional standardized tests required by CMS

Grades K-8

English and Math Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) 3 times/year

 

 

 

 

Parents stand up against test stress

By Parents Across America

Across our nation, children of all ages are showing a jump in test anxiety. As high-stakes standardized tests have multiplied, growing percentages of students have begun to report test-related stress. More are seeking test-stress counseling. Media reports of psychological and physiological symptoms tied to testing have increased.

Some students are able to manage the pressures of high-stakes testing. Others are overwhelmed. Parents, teachers, administrators, and mental health professionals report symptoms that include nausea, dizziness, crying, vomiting, panic attacks, asthma attacks, tantrums, headaches, sleeplessness, refusal to go to school, “freaking out,” meltdowns, depression, suicide threats and suicide attempts.

Recent research has demonstrated that prolonged stress can profoundly undermine learning, mental health and brain development in young people. The stress that high-stakes testing creates is thus sabotaging learning for many students.

Test stress does particular harm to our most vulnerable children. Students with special needs, low-income students, children of color and those whose first language is not English are most likely to do poorly on standardized tests, and most likely to attend struggling schools where the focus on test results is particularly intense. One study has found that as many as 41 percent of African American elementary school children have experienced high test anxiety.

Much of the literature on test anxiety focuses on how to help children cope with the stress. In contrast, PAA believes the cause of the stress must be addressed. No child should be exposed to prolonged, intense stress, which can inhibit brain function and take a toll on mental health.

What to do about test stress in children

End high-stakes standardized testing: A switch from high-stakes testing to a systematic review of actual student work would

  • lessen excessive test stress that undermines learning,
  • provide superior evidence of academic progress, and
  • enrich classroom experiences.

Rely instead on regular teacher-generated reports of student progress which

  • look at students’ work over time and across all areas of learning and growth,
  • are prepared by experienced, qualified adults who personally observe each student, and
  • are accessible to parents, unlike secretive standardized test scores.

De-emphasize The Tests: JUST SAY NO to test pep rallies, test prep worksheets that replace meaningful class- and homework, constant messages about the consequences of test “failure,” prizes for test-takers, etc.

Recognize opt-out rights: Parents are opting their children out of testing in record numbers, in part to protect them from the stress caused by misuse and overuse of standardized tests. Federal and state law must support this decision by parents.

Advocate for local and state assessment policies that align with professional standards for assessment.

Endorsements

Dr. Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Professor Emerita, Lesley University

Defending the Early Years

FairTest

Dr. Peter Gray, research professor, department of Psychology, Boston College

Alfie Kohn, educator and author, The Case Against Standardized Testing

Jonathan Kozol, educator and author of Savage Inequalities and Shame of a Nation

Dr. Roxana Marachi, Associate Professor of Education, San Jose State University

Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin, Director, Defending the Early Years

Dr. Mark Naison, Professor of History, Fordham University

Dr. Monty Neill, executive director, FairTest

Dr. Isabel Nunez, Associate Professor, Center for Policy and Social Justice, Concordia University

Dr. Julian Vasquez-Heilig, Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, and Director of the Doctorate in Educational Leadership, California State, Sacramento

Parent meeting with June Atkinson, March 23

We’re pleased to announce a meeting with State Superintendent June Atkinson on March 23, 6:30 p.m., here in Charlotte.

The meeting will cover the standardized testing situation in North Carolina public schools. It’s specifically for parents or guardians of current public school students (traditional or charter) to discuss their experiences with testing at their children’s schools.

If you are interested in attending, please e-mail us at info@mecklenburgacts.org. Let us know the ages of your children and where they are in school. We’ll get back to you with more information.

Divisions in CMS as much about history as race

By Pamela Grundy

http://www.thecharlottepost.com/clientuploads/CPPDFs/cp022516A.pdf

In recent weeks, as the CMS school board wrestled with a superintendent search, a clear split emerged. White board members supported extending the contract of current superintendent and longtime CMS employee Ann Clark. Black members favored an immediate search for a replacement. Behind-the-scenes efforts to fashion a compromise did not succeed.

This divide was rooted not simply in race, but in history. As the board and the community seek to move forward, it is important to understand what that history reveals about the challenges ahead, particularly the role that money and influence have played in perpetuating unequal educational opportunities for low-income students of color.

Julius Chambers, who argued Charlotte’s landmark Swann desegregation lawsuit, did not believe that black children would magically learn more if they sat next to white children. Rather, he believed in the hard reality of political power – that schools would only offer equal opportunities if they all enrolled students from communities able to ensure their children were not shortchanged. In the 1960 and 1970s, when political and economic power was held primarily by whites, that meant white communities.

“As I view it, the only way that we can obtain quality education for all children, black and white, is to accomplish racial mixing of students in the various schools.” Chambers told the U.S. Senate in the spring of 1971. Without white children in every school, he said, “I don’t think that those who are now in power would provide the facilities and services that would be necessary in order to accomplish equal educational programs.”

Subsequent events have confirmed the wisdom of Chambers’ analysis. During both desegregation and resegregation, the pull of wealth and influence have meant that CMS schools that have enrolled students from wealthier and more powerful communities have regularly offered greater educational opportunities than those that served students from less influential communities.

Desegregation did indeed spread power and resources more evenly, producing across-the-board improvement in student performance. But its effects were complicated by the county’s rapid growth. Even as buses carried students to desegregated schools, a combination of market forces and political decisions sparked new divisions. Developers built dozens of neighborhoods at the edges of the county, most targeted at at middle and upper-income homebuyers. The rush to the suburbs, along with city and county housing policies, concentrated low-income housing in central city and middle ring neighborhoods.

By the 1980s, these disparities had created significant differences between schools. In 1988, for example, a Charlotte Observer report revealed the challenges faced by Harding, Garinger and West Mecklenburg high schools.

While the schools were racially desegregated, they served especially high percentages of low-income students. They offered fewer advanced courses, had fewer electives such as drama or Latin, and employed less-experienced teachers than their better-off counterparts. Harding had been through six principals in eight years. Two of those principals had been transferred to Harding after failing to satisfy parents at South Mecklenburg and Myers Park.

Former school superintendent Jay Robinson did not mince words about the link between parent influence and educational opportunities. “At a school where parents are less vocal and not in a position to be strong advocates, there is a tendency not to look after their needs as you might,” he told Observer reporters.

Fast-forward to 2010. Busing for desegregation has ended, and CMS has dramatically resegregated. Many center-city and middle ring schools are populated almost entirely by low-income children of color. The school board has attempted to address the challenges of concentrated poverty through programs such as weighted and strategic staffing. But the gaps between high-poverty and low-poverty schools have widened dramatically, not only in student performance, but in teacher experience, staff stability, course offerings and extracurricular opportunities.

Superintendent Peter Gorman proposes to consolidate several high-poverty middle and elementary schools into five K-8 schools. He also recommends eliminating or consolidating several magnet programs, including Montessori and traditional, which are popular with well-off CMS families.

All the affected communities rise up against the changes. The proposed K-8s, whose small populations ensure that they will provide narrower course offerings and fewer enrichment opportunities than traditional middle schools, receive especially sharp critique.

The CMS response leaves no doubt that some voices have more influence than others. The proposed changes to Montessori and traditional magnets are quickly scrapped. The school board approves the K-8 plans. It passes several other changes – most notably to Waddell and Harding high schools – that primarily affect low-income communities of color. Five years later, all the reconfigured schools continue to struggle, as do most of the high-poverty schools created when CMS resegregated.

Ann Clark should not be blamed for the decisions of previous boards or superintendents. But is it any wonder that school board members who come from or have close ties to the affected communities find change in leadership more appealing than continuity?

If the board, superintendent and community are to overcome these thorny problems, we must build greater trust. We must genuinely listen to each other. We must face the hard reality of the inequities that currently plague CMS schools, and the multiple obstacles to providing genuinely equal opportunities. If concerns about the school board split can start those hard but necessary discussions, bringing that disagreement into public view will have served a useful purpose.

 

 

 

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 info@mecklenburgacts.org.

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: http://www.fairtest.org/roll-back-standardized-testing-send-letter-congres.

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.