N.C. Schools Superintendent Mark Johnson reads a book to kindergartners during his visit at East Garner Elementary School in Garner, N.C., on April 3, 2017. Johnson recently announced new state guidelines reducing how often K-3 students are required to be tested on their reading skills during the school year. Aaron Moody amoody@newsobserver.com
N.C. Schools Superintendent Mark Johnson reads a book to kindergartners during his visit at East Garner Elementary School in Garner, N.C., on April 3, 2017. Johnson recently announced new state guidelines reducing how often K-3 students are required to be tested on their reading skills during the school year. Aaron Moody amoody@newsobserver.com

Politics & Government

Why North Carolina’s youngest students will get some relief from testing this year

By T. Keung Hui

khui@newsobserver.com

September 01, 2018 05:09 PM

RALEIGH

At a time when there are concerns that students are being tested too much, new statewide changes this school year should reduce how much time North Carolina’s youngest students spend taking tests.

The state Department of Public Instruction is no longer requiring that kindergarten through third-grade teachers give certain tests designed to assess how well students are doing in the Read to Achieve program. In a memo announcing the changes last week, State Schools Superintendent Mark Johnson cited how 76 percent of educators who responded to a May survey said students are tested too much.

“We hope these changes help reduce the amount of time you must assess students as well as how much your students feel like they are being tested,” Johnson said in the memo sent to elementary school educators shortly before the start of the new school year.

Complaints about the amount of testing have been around since at least the 1990s. At a Wake County school board committee meeting this week, school board vice chairman Jim Martin told his colleagues that the district should use its influence as the 15th-largest school district in the nation to push for testing reform.

“This really is important work for us when we look at this kind of testing stuff to give some pushback, because if we don’t keep pushing, we’re never going to get change,” Martin told his colleagues.

In June, state lawmakers passed a law that directs Johnson to make recommendations to legislators by Jan. 15, 2019, on ways to reduce testing that’s not required by state or federal law.

In his memo, Johnson told educators he’ll urge the State Board of Education to eliminate certain tests in grades K-5 that he said are caused by state board policies.

But in the meantime, Johnson announced new state guidance on the Read to Achieve program, an effort pushed by state lawmakers to get students reading at grade level by the end of third grade. Third-grade students who aren’t meeting reading standards are subject to not being promoted to the next grade.

Most of the state’s school districts use the mClass program to get benchmarks throughout the school year of how well students are reading. Previously, DPI required districts to give the mClass tests as often as every two weeks for some students.

In Johnson’s May survey, 88 percent of teachers said they’d support limiting the number of benchmark assessments.

The state is now saying those mClass assessments are only recommended and not required. With less time spent on testing, Johnson suggested teachers use their newly issued state iPads for “meaningful literacy activities for students.”

“We want to give you time back to do what you entered the profession to do: teach,” Johnson said.

It will ultimately be up to individual school districts and teachers whether to cut back on the amount of testing for K-3 students. Wake County school officials said the district will follow the new recommended state guidelines.

The new DPi guidelines should reduce the total time spent in administering the mClass assessments as well as how how frequently they’re given to students in Durham Public Schools, according to Chip Sudderth, a district spokesman.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui