Stagnant School Performance Reveals It’s Time For A Change

The North Carolina school performance grades released last week continue to tell the same stories across the state: the schools with well off students perform better than schools with students from lower income families. That’s not what the school accountability is supposed to be telling us about our schools.

The best news is that Wake County Public School System continues to outpace state averages. It’s an indication that WCPSS performance is among the best. There’s always room for improvement, but those improvements can be done with finer brushstrokes than in other districts.

While most of the focus is placed on individual grades posted by schools, these so-called quality measures are really built on limited data from tests that only capture a snapshot of student performance which don’t truly reflect teacher effectiveness, building administration quality, or the condition of a school’s culture.

As WakeEd has argued previously, the letter grading system is oversimplified and leaves out other important information that would be helpful to understand a school’s overall ability to produce top-quality students.

The End of Grade and End of Course tests are an autopsy on student learning which are not useful for anything other than school performance grades. Students don’t benefit from them, and they are essentially useless to teachers.

Since the tests come at the end of a teacher’s time with students, they provide no help for the current teacher to take timely corrective action. Similarly, the next year’s teacher cannot do much with limited information the tests offer. All that gets reported is the percentile rank, raw score, and the student’s performance on a 1-5 scale, where 5 is best.

EOG and EOC results don’t include whether a student is better at math reasoning or computation, or if a student is struggling with finding information in non-fiction text or doesn’t understand character traits in fiction. They give no indication of a school’s overall culture of learning, or of individual teacher effectiveness.

That’s why it is encouraging to see that Gov. Roy Cooper last week signed into law a bipartisan bill that will eliminate more than 20 NC Final Exams in subjects that don’t have an EOG or EOC, reduce local testing by school districts to be at least equal with amount of time spent on state tests, and launches a new study of the NC Personalized Assessment Tool which may replace End of Grade tests in grades 3-8.

This was the first step in the General Assembly’s effort to overhaul the ways students are tested and school performance is measured. WakeEd has advocated to the General Assembly for these types of changes.

Changes in state testing requirements are coming as part of the transition to new school accountability requirements of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced the No Child Left Behind Act. ESSA gives states more flexibility in how they measure student progress to ensure schools are performing effectively.

North Carolina is leading the way to modify the way it measures student progress to reduce the amount of time spent testing, while simultaneously collecting data useful to teachers and accountability requirements alike. Called NC Check-ins, the tests would be given multiple times throughout the school year rather than once at the end of the school year or semester-long course.

In the private sector, this would be similar to a quarterly performance review instead of a single annual one. The employee performance review system is meant to be used as a conversation between employee and supervisor to set goals and improve outcomes for both parties. While those types of conversations are already ongoing between teachers and students, the NC Check-ins would allow for teams of teachers to meet in grade-level or departmental groups to review student performance individually and as a group to spot trends, make timely changes, and share information to see the whole child better.

While NC Check-ins are already being used informally in some school districts, adopting NC-Check-ins in place of EOGs and EOCs requires legislative approval. A bill that passed the House this session was rejected by the Senate. A compromise may be reached this session.

The question that remains to be answered is: How will multiple assessments throughout the year be used to produce an accountability score at the end of the year? This is something that is still required by federal and state law.

WakeEd supports the move to a more frequent, shorter, and informative testing environment. In fact, it appears in two categories of WakeEd’s Public Policy Agenda:

  • Successful Students in Every Classroom
    • Diversify student evaluation to include multiple measurement methods which capture the full growth of students each school year.
  • Strong Schools in Every Community
    • Formulate equitable school performance reports which are simple but comprehensive, tools for demonstrating effectiveness and areas for growth.

States must test students to comply with federal accountability laws, but that doesn’t need to be the only reason states administer annual standardized tests. This is an opportunity for North Carolina to become a national leader in more than just checking the annual measuring stick. The state could create a model testing program that would first seek to improve outcomes for students.

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