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"PRRAC Researcher Report"

January/February 2001 issue of Poverty & Race

The Common Sense Foundation
PO Box 10808
Raleigh, NC 27605
919/821-9270
marybe@common-sense.org
Contact: MaryBe McMillan

A storm is brewing in North Carolina over the state’s high stakes testing program. Not since the desegregation efforts of the early 1970s has there been such unrest over a state-level education policy. Tests designed to measure the performance of schools are now being used to measure the performance of individual students, and much rides on that individual measurement — promotion, course grades and graduation with a high school diploma. In short, a student’s future now depends on a test score.

This year in North Carolina, as the policy to end social promotion goes statewide, thousands of children will fail a grade solely because of their performance on a single standardized test, a test never validated for measuring individual performance. Most of those students will be poor and minority children, many of whom attend schools with inadequate resources. Teachers are leaving such low-performing schools because they are penalized if their students do not perform well on a single standardized test. Stories of struggling students relegated to special education classes to avoid lowering the school’s test score are common. Teachers across the state also tell disturbing tales of third-graders becoming physically ill under the pressure of the tests.

Not surprisingly, parents are confused, angry and frustrated with a high-stakes testing policy that was developed and implemented with little public input and that now has dramatic implications for their children’s future. With a grant from PRRAC, the Common Sense Foundation, along with the NC Justice and Community Development Center published an informational booklet for parents: A Closer Look: A Parent’s Guide to Standardized Testing in NC Schools. This guide has helped alleviate some confusion over the testing policy, by informing parents of the test’s consequences for their child’s future, the drawbacks of standardized testing and parents’ rights concerning the testing of their child. School administrators, PTA presidents, teachers and community leaders across the state have requested copies of the guide. We have received so many requests that we have only a few guides left and are considering a second printing.

Since publication of the parent’s guide, we have been deluged with calls from parents and teachers who believe no one at the state level is listening to their concerns about the testing program. Thanks to a recent grant from the Z Smith Reynolds Foundation, our organization is working to get the concerns of parents and teachers heard. We will establish “The Common Sense Commission for Fair Testing,” a panel of educators, academics, teachers and parents. The Commission will hold statewide hearings about the state’s standardized testing program in public schools and the effect it has on students, teachers and families of students taking the test. The Commission will develop policy recommendations based on that testimony.

The Commission has two primary and complementary goals. First, it will focus the frustration over high-stakes testing in North Carolina, by providing a forum in local communities for parents, students, teachers and advocates to meet and share their individual experiences. Second, it will bring together experts and community people to channel that frustration and confusion into positive policy recommendations and new alliances to support the policy proposals.

Notes:

A Closer Look: A Parent’s Guide to Standardized Testing in NC Schools is available (free) from The Common Sense Foundation, PO Box 10808, Raleigh, NC 27605, 919/821-9270, www.common-sense.org.

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