Raleigh, N.C. — Research showing that almost half of North Carolina high school students failed a written driving test caused lawmakers to blast a new driver's education program on Tuesday.
A study by the School of Government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that only 60 percent of the 477,313 tests given to driver's education students over the past two years led to a passing grade. The average score on all tests was 80.
Driver's education is required for teens who want to get a license before they graduate from high school, and it costs the state about $30 million a year to administer.
"The educational component of it seems to be rather questionable, at least in terms of passing the test," said Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus, who heads a legislative oversight committee evaluating driver's education.
Students were three times as likely to fail the knowledge test as the driving test, UNC researchers said.
Some lawmakers blame the new curriculum that the state Department of Public Instruction implemented a year ago.
Rep. Edgar Starnes, R-Caldwell, said his daughter did well in class but failed the Division of Motor Vehicles test twice. She finally passed it after studying the DMV handbook instead of her class notes, he said.
"I think DPI has failed miserably in creating a curriculum that adequately prepares these students to pass the test," Starnes said.
Rep. Tim Moffitt, R-Buncombe, said his son had a similar experience.
"I just am curious as to why, when we're creating a curriculum, why are we not starting with the DMV textbook, if you will," Moffitt said.
Ann McColl, legislative director for the State Board of Education and DPI, said the new course does cover the DMV handbook. It also includes a lot of other issues, such as defensive driving and distractions, she said.
"We have a new curriculum that's based on the best thinking around the country about what teens need to be learning," McColl said. "We have an old DMV test. So, trying to match those up is an ongoing process."
Deputy DMV Commissioner Johanna Reese said her agency would work with DPI to see if the state's driver's license test needs to be updated.
"(We want) not just to align (it) with the DPI curriculum, but just to make sure that we are testing what we need to test to make sure we have safe drivers," Reese said.