As many students in North Carolina public schools begin school this week, State Superintendent Mark Johnson announced that he has taken steps to reduce the time spent testing for many of the state’s youngest scholars. The move follows a survey Johnson sent to teachers last school year that showed that 76 percent of North Carolina teachers think their students are tested too much.
“One of my top priorities is to reduce the time you must spend assessing and testing students,” Johnson said in a message to elementary-grade educators Friday. “Your input guides our work. We want to give you time back to do what you entered the profession to do: teach.”
Past guidance from the Department of Public Instruction resulted in strict requirements for how often kindergarten through third-grade teachers had to assess students via the mCLASS reading diagnostic tool, which is used in all but a few North Carolina kindergarten-through-third-grade classrooms. New guidance issued for this school year moves those from requirements to recommendations and allows for more teacher discretion in the state’s Read to Achieve program.
Following up on Johnson’s use of Read to Achieve funds to purchase new Apple iPad devices for use in K-3 classrooms, the department has made additional content available to allow teachers to monitor second- and third-grade students’ reading progress online while the students work independently. This represents a major step toward replacing testing with personalized learning. But devices can be used for more than monitoring progress with the reading diagnostic tool.
“Teachers can access a wealth of early-reading resources via their devices,” said Pamela Shue, deputy superintendent for early education. “In addition to the time-saving policies and the new, more rigorous book-set provided statewide, we’ve made other options available. For example, schools may opt to use a few additional measures, which combined with the existing Read to Achieve assessments, provide extra screening for students at risk of reading difficulties, including dyslexia.”
Johnson also told elementary-school teachers that he will maintain his focus on reducing high-stakes testing in a variety of ways, including urging the State Board of Education to eliminate certain tests in grades K-5 caused by board policies rather than state or federal law. Johnson also will work to change DPI policies around how end-of-year tests are administered based on educator feedback and his own experience serving as an EOG proctor in May.
“Teachers and parents have been telling me that the tests are too long, the testing environment is too stressful, and the rules placed on students, teachers, and volunteer proctors are unreasonably strict,” Johnson said. “Last year I saw it for myself when I proctored a test in a fourth-grade classroom.
“I can’t change federal law about standardized testing. But where we can, we will be revising the testing protocols to remove unnecessarily strict guidelines to alleviate at least some of the stress and disruption that testing causes in the early grades.”
Many of the changes in testing protocols and guidelines will be in effect before students take end-of-course and end-of-grade exams for this school year.