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We have heard all the horror stories about the bad legislation coming out of North Carolina lately, whether it be Voter ID, School Vouchers, Freeze on Teacher Pay, Eliminating Tenure, Banning Marriage Equality. However, many of you may not have heard about of what I think is the worst piece of North Carolina law yet. Recently, I have been told by a NC principal that this is the worst educational idea in 100 years!

Learning described as torture

from the Wake County reader:

“This seems like torture to a struggling reader,” school board member Jim Martin said.
The portfolios are meant for students who are considered to be at risk of failing the end-of-grade exam. But school officials said they don’t want to run the risk of missing students who might fail.
“We’re covering our bases, regrettably, with this truckload of a portfolio,” Superintendent Jim Merrill told the board.(I would like to note 36 would be the minimum number to complete the portfolio.  If a student misses more than 1 question on any given test, she/he would have to take another one on that standard.)

North Carolina is trying to plan for flunking up to 50,000 to 60,000 3rd graders for not passing reading tests. Mind you, this is not necessarily because they are "illiterate", but the kids will flunk if the kids cannot pass a series of tests administered by the State corresponding to the new rigorous Common Core Standards.

Based on last year's End of Grade Tests results- over 60-70% of the North Carolina kids would be held back a grade. Based on this year's Beginning of Grade Test results, up to 70% of North Carolina kids are in "danger" and considered to be reading below grade level.

Let me explain how we got here: In 2012 NC Legislative Session, testimony was offered during discussion of the well intended "Excellence in Schools Act"that said that 3rd Grade is the most crucial year to development of young minds. Further, it showed that kids who cannot read at grade level are prone to serious issues later in school.

So Senate Leader Phil Berger and others decided that the best way to "draw a line in the sand against illiteracy " was to dream up a boogieman in schools called "social promotion"  

I remember the last person to use the "draw a line in the sand" analogy took us to war with Iraq.

Social Promotion is something that all schools do. At the end of a school year, as a child is getting older, a school promotes the child to the next grade level with his/her peers. Most schools do not have certain qualifiers to get promoted, they simply promote the kids each year. In North Carolina, 98% of all kids are generally promoted. In past years, there were no high stakes tests for the kids.  Of the kids who are held back for a year, there is normally conferences between the teacher, school administration, principal, and parents. The goal of the process is to arrive at a mutually agreed conclusion.

 But Senator Phil Berger and the GOP Majority believe they know more than local teachers, administrators, and parents. They mandate frequent testing of young 8 and 9 years old's and "Eliminating Social Promotion" turning Social Promotion into a pejorative term.  They have aligned North Carolina with the new "untested", more rigorous Common Core Standards to insure that no 3rd Grader escaped 3rd Grade without being able to read. In 2012, The NC GOP passed the "Read To Achieve" section of the "Excellence in Schools Act" with improving North Carolina Schools to take effect in the 2013-2014 school year.

This reminds me of a boss flogging it's workers until the moral improves.

This reminds me of mandatory minimums sentences for non-violent drug offenders.

The nightmare implementation:
3rd graders are now required to pass sometime during the year, a standardized reading test. They read passages and are required to answer comprehensive questions on the test. The students are tested at the beginning of the year and End of the Year. If a student is not making progress, based on the beginning of the year results, the student has to undergo a "profile to showcase their individual reading work". The profile is consisted of this: 12 Common Core Standards with 3 tests per standard for 36 passages. That means 36 testing days with about 90-120 minutes per test per day!
One must get 4 out of 5 questions correct in order to pass a passage. Failure of more than one question per passage means additional passages to be tested on.

My son's school district determined that all students should attempt the profile, even if they passed the reading test as the beginning of the year. This means for all students
(starting in January through the end of the year) 3 tests per week!

At the end of the year- they will have another attempt at the End of Year test.
Failure on the portfolio and End of Year Test will insure a mandatory reading boot camp this summer. Early estimates are that 60% of all 3rd Graders may require summer school
The students will get another chance to be tested in the summer. Failure here and the student will then be failed, flunked, held back- simply will not progress to the next grade with their classmates.

So, your kids could be gifted at math, or bad at taking tests, but the State of North Carolina says you are a "failure". Your child may be quite literate, bit not enough to Phil Berger's standards.

The GOP did this at the same time they implemented the Common Core Standards. These standards are much more rigorous then the previous standards. Statewide Reading achievement fell from 67% down to 32% .   Here is the reason: the Common Core Standards are harder than anything ever attempted. Many of the passages the 3rd Graders kids are at middle school levels. The standards ask for analyzing data, making comparisons and analogies- things you would normally expect for middle and high school age kids.

 I had a conversation with a Minnesota Legislator, who sits on on the Minnesota House Education Committee and is a teacher. He was shocked at this legislation. According to him, it takes about 4 years for scores to rise up after implementation of new standards.

My son is being subjected these never ending tests. And he is in 2nd Grade. The feedback he hears everyday is "He is not reading at grade level". "He is at risk of being held back". What will this constant negative reinforcement do to him?

Kids are hating schools. They have become a non stop pit of high stakes testing.
"Pass or Fail". The NC GOP found 70 million dollars to fund the 2 month summer school boot camp meant for an estimated 20% of the kids. However, it looks more like 50-60% of 3rd graders may be required to attend. Dhoo!! Many of those kids will go on to be failed and forced to repeat the next grade. Some schools in poorer areas may have 85% of students attend summer boot camp and potentially failing

Teachers have become glorified test administrators and are lacking time to actually teach their kids. They hate it. School administrators across the North Caolina hate it.
Parents hate it. Kids hate it.

Governor Pat McRory, Phil Berger, Thom Tillis and the GOP has taken the criticism and ducked their responsibility with a blame game for this mess, they blame, not the ideas behind the legislation, but the Democrat at the head of NC Department of Public Instruction (DPI)  Dr. June Atkinson for a flawed implementation.

Let discuss the social ramifications of the North Carolina flunking tens of thousands of kids:

I don't care what word you call it ( i.e holding back, retaining, non-progressing) the word is "flunking". The State is saying that your child is not deserving of advancing with their friends to the next level. They simply did not try hard enough. The parents did not help enough, so therefore, the kid will wear a scarlet "F" on their head for the test of their life.
Too bad you live in poverty. Too bad you live in a single parent household.  

Of the tens of thousands of flunked kids, I expect thousands of these flunked kids to drop out of school at some point when they reach teenager status. I see more enrollment in gangs, I see more juvenile crime. Eight to Ten years from now, we will be kicking ourselves for labeling a generation of kids "failures".  However,  I expect the GOP to thump their chests for passing "get tough" legislation on youth crime.

Please name me another state with better statewide test results if their action plan is to
"pass or flunk" students. So Phil Berger and his minions know more than the 36 states ahead of North Carolina. They know more than teachers, administrators, and parents.

Combine this with vouchers to take money away from public schools, freezes on teacher pay, eliminating bonuses for teachers with master's degrees, you have a recipe to destroy the already decimated public school systems.

Thank you North Carolina GOP!!!

There is hope: We need to stand up to this. The DPI has now allowed a consortium of 20 school districts to use their own tests instead of the Common Core tests and portfolio. We should be taking the 70 million $ for summer boot camp  and investing into reading specialists who can operate in and out of classrooms, working with at need children. There should be after school reading programs.  We should be supporting our kids not punishing them.

One of the best blogs on this is from
Diane Ravitch

Diane's recent post

The time spent on testing is time that should be spent reading, writing, listening, and learning. As the old chestnut goes, you don’t fatten a pig by weighing it

Originally posted to Intheknow on Mon Feb 24, 2014 at 12:24 PM PST.

Also republished by North Carolina BLUE.

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