Why North Carolina Lawmakers Are Hypocrites on Public School Testing

A North Carolina public education advocate on why schools shouldn’t face another round of punitive standardized testing this spring.

As we enter a new year with a new president and new federal education leadership, one of the most pressing questions in education is whether or not we will have standardized testing this year.    

Due to the pandemic, standardized testing was waived last spring, and most states put out a “hold harmless” policy for the consequences of the tests.  The question remains whether or not this will hold true for this spring.  What isn’t a question is the hypocrisy surrounding testing during the pandemic and beyond.

This winter, as my friends with NC Families for Testing Reform and I began to lobby for waivers on in-person tests for our high school students, we hit brick walls everywhere.  

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The State Board of Education, which administers NC’s K-12 laws and policies, insisted that the test could only be done in person, despite many districts canceling in-person instruction this school year.  The Board insisted that the tests still count for 15-20% of a student’s grade. Without this, some argued, there would be no incentive for students to come in and take the test. 

How else will we measure achievement? they asked. How will we measure the inequities in North Carolina schools?  

In the end a compromise was made.  They allowed districts to have a broad testing window.  They also gave districts the option to set a grade scale.  

But here’s the biggest problem with that plan: By allowing different districts to vote on their own set of testing policies, we provided yet another avenue for inequities between North Carolina counties. 

While some counties had a hold-harmless grading scale or a generous grading scale, others chose not to change the scale at all. Worse yet, while most counties allowed students to postpone the test, the messaging was unclear.  

Thus privileged parents who followed school board meetings and news articles could access the information, while other parents didn’t even know that postponing the test was an option. 

By not having a statewide policy, the Board created inequity in a test that they insisted would measure inequity.

‘The Leandro case gave our state a gift’

Until a federal waiver is granted, all schools in NC are  going ahead with testing.  Instead of state leaders doing everything they can to keep our students and teachers safe, they insist that these tests are worth the risk. 

There are reasons that I’m skeptical, and that the data will only be used to punish our poorest schools, which will likely lag their more affluent peers in performance None of these policies actually aid schools. I can’t think of a time when these tests led to positive outcomes for actual students and schools.  

Lawmakers could use those numbers to justify anti-teacher policies. These numbers impact teacher bonuses and principal pay.

Legislators could also use poor performance to fuel takeovers like the controversial Innovative School District, which allows private charter operators to seize control of low-performing schools.  

Yet those lawmakers continue to ignore the needs of students, underfunding local district needs and even now resisting the courts in the seminal Leandro case, which found decades ago that NC hasn’t done enough to guarantee fair and adequate schools across all 100 counties. This is especially true for marginalized communities. N 

Why continue to collect data year after year if we do absolutely nothing with the inequities that exists?

I honestly believe many want change in our state, but to change many in this state will have to admit their own failures and role in promoting the testing culture in North Carolina. The Leandro case, which was filed in eastern NC in  is by no means new, but we do have a new consent order, a detailed report, and renewed community interest.  The time to act is now.

The one thing we seem to have not tried, is to actually fund our schools at levels necessary to end opportunity gaps.  

Leandro gave our state a gift.  It gave us a roadmap to follow to begin to address these issues.   It is time to stop standardized testing and concentrate on something that will make a difference in the lives of students in North Carolina.  

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