Press Release

Test score fiasco must prompt change

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RALEIGH – State education officials canceled a news conference today, a move that helps hide problems with new statewide math scores. Those scores show how North Carolina’s education testing program has failed parents, students, and taxpayers, according to a new John Locke Foundation Spotlight report.

Click here to view and here to listen to discussion of this Spotlight report.

Experts with JLF and the N.C. Education Alliance say it’s time for the state education establishment to change. “After seeing these problems continue for 10 years, someone needs to take responsibility,” said Lindalyn Kakadelis, NCEA director. “We need to see someone stand up at the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and say, ‘I should resign.’ Now there’s more evidence than ever that this accountability program is flawed.”

Scores from the state’s latest standardized math tests reveal that student gains have been misrepresented in the past, Kakadelis said. “The truth is these scores were set low in 1996,” said Kakadelis, who served on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education at that time. “Everyone knew these minimal expectations were too low 10 years ago.

“They have not been raised for 10 years,” she added. “So to now say that we’re raising the bar just a little bit and having so many of our poor and minority students not meet that new standard shows us that little has changed. The rhetoric from state education officials doesn’t match reality.”

Top state educators had scheduled a media briefing today to discuss the latest results from North Carolina’s ABCs school accountability report. The state has used ABCs results to determine hundreds of millions of dollars of bonuses for teachers in recent years. Now the briefing has been postponed until November 9.

“Postponing this media briefing until after next week’s elections means parents and voters will be left in the dark about the ongoing failure of the testing program,” Kakadelis said. “Thousands of low-income families still don’t know whether they’ll be eligible for supplementary school services or school choice. It’s time to shed some light on this long-standing problem.”

Some details about the math scores already have emerged. The Charlotte Observer reported Friday that a new, tougher state math test exposed problems with past assessments of student progress. “After a decade of rising test scores, Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s minority and low-income students saw much of their progress vanish with a tougher state math test,” according to the newspaper report.

Superintendent Peter Gorman called the result “‘devastating news for the progress of some of our children,’” according to the Observer. Gorman added: “‘We can’t take a false positive of low expectations and turn it into a joyful moment.’”

The state’s largest school system is not alone. N.C. Board of Education Chairman Howard Lee predicted many school systems across the state would get “a painful reality check,” according to the newspaper.

More students are failing the tests, even with minimal changes to the state standards, said JLF education policy analyst Terry Stoops. “The bar hasn’t been raised very high,” Stoops said. “Students need to answer only 9 percent more questions correctly in order to pass the latest end-of-grade math test.

“So that means a student can still answer fewer than 50 percent of the questions correctly and still pass the test,” he added. “When you factor in guessing, a student can get a quarter of the questions correct – then guess the rest – and still pass the test. So there really aren’t any stricter standards being put into play.”

Outside observers have a hard time determining how the state sets its standards, Stoops said. “There’s a lot about this program that’s still secret,” he said. “And they refuse to release the data that would allow us to see exactly how the standards are set and how students are doing on the test. They claim that the tests have become more difficult, but without releasing the data and information to the public, we have little sense of whether that’s true or not.”

The math score problems continue a pattern for North Carolina’s school testing program, Kakadelis said. “We’ve seen fiascos with writing scores and graduation rates,” she said. “This is just the latest problem. Year after year, as problems arise, no one is held accountable. It’s just excused, and we move on. At some point, the public is going to demand that the N.C. Department of Public Instruction hold someone accountable for these fiascos.”

In the announcement of today’s now canceled media briefing, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction said new scores “will reflect higher proficiency standards for the state’s new end-of-grade mathematics assessments that were approved by State Board members in October.” Education officials say those higher proficiency standards align N.C. scores more closely with national norms.

Kakadelis and Stoops do not buy that argument. “What this program really shows is that we’ve lowered standards so that almost everyone can meet them,” Kakadelis said. “That means we’re not really getting the bang for our bucks – our taxpayers’ dollars.”

Terry Stoops’ Spotlight report, “The ABCs of Public Disgrace: North Carolina’s school-accountability system has misled parents and taxpayers,” is available at the JLF web site. For more information, please contact Stoops at (919) 828-3876 or [email protected]. To arrange an interview, contact Mitch Kokai at (919) 306-8736 or [email protected].

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