Raleigh, N.C. — House lawmakers are moving ahead with several bills aimed at easing testing and other requirements for teachers in North Carolina, including a proposal to eliminate statewide final exams.
One measure that passed the House K-12 Education Committee on Tuesday would change the formula used to calculate school letter grades. Under current law, the score is based 80 percent on schools’ student proficiency on standardized tests and 20 percent on year-over-year student growth. House Bill 322 would change the formula to 50/50.
"In my view, education is growth," said sponsor Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union. "Proficiency rewards schools for the students they take in, but not necessarily for how well they teach students."
Rep. Debra Conrad, R-Forsyth, argued that the emphasis should remain on how well students perform at grade level.
"We want to keep the bar high and encourage the teachers that this is our goal," Conrad said. "You do want children to grow, but you don’t want to mask the fact that they’re not reaching grade level."
Conrad, a committee co-chair, was the lone no vote as the bill passed on a voice vote.
Changing mentor qualifications
Another measure that passed the committee would allow teachers rated as "proficient" to serve as mentors.
Under current law, teachers must be rated either "distinguished" or "accomplished" – the highest and second-highest categories, respectively – to qualify to serve as mentors to beginning teachers. However, a recent report from the state Department of Public Instruction showed that 41 schools in the state have no teachers who would qualify as mentors, and many other schools have fewer mentors than needed to pair with peers in their first three years in the classroom.
House Bill 235 would allow principals to designate "proficient" teachers as mentors if no higher-rated teachers are available. It would also allow retired teachers to serve as mentors. Conrad, the sponsor of the measure, said it was recommended by the State Board of Education.
"I really don’t like to lower the bar, but there is a shortage," she said.
"I am really surprised that the state board would want us to downplay the importance of having all the qualifications for a mentor," remarked Rep. Donna White, R-Johnston. "That really disturbs me."
"So, what we’re going to do is implement a watered-down approach for mentoring those low- performing schools?" added Rep. Charles Graham, R-Robeson. "I’m really concerned about that."
Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, R-Wilkes, the bill’s co-sponsor, countered that proficient teachers are not "watered down."
"If a teacher is doing exactly what they’re supposed to do and are doing excellent in the classroom, they will receive 'proficient' [ratings], and that’s a good thing. That’s not a bad thing," said Elmore.
Eliminating statewide final exams
A third bill that was discussed but not voted on Tuesday would do away with statewide final exams in most courses, returning instead to teacher-generated exams except where standardized tests are federally required, such as end-of-course tests in 10th grade English, math 1 and biology.
House Bill 90 would also ease assessment requirements for teachers in non-core courses like the arts.
Elmore, the primary sponsor, said teachers are no longer being evaluated on their students’ statewide final exam grades, so it would have little impact on teacher assessment. But other committee members disagreed.
"We would prevent ourselves, for example in U.S. history, from being able to compare performance across the state on an exam that everybody got," said Rep. Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke. "We’d have all sorts of apples and oranges and things that we would simply, I guess, ignore going forward."
"I’ll give you a little proverb," replied Elmore, a teacher. "To make an elephant grow, you must feed him, not measure him."
Asked whether stakeholders had endorsed eliminating the exams, Elmore replied that DPI and data analytics vendor SAS said it’s "a policy decision" and that the North Carolina Association of Educators, the largest teachers organization in the state, had declined to take a position on it.
House Bill 90 could be back before the committee for a vote next week.