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If Virus Brings A Break From NC Testing, Ripple Effects Could Be Huge

An elementary school bulletin board offers a reminder that standardized exams don't measure everything.

North Carolina's year-end testing is likely to be put on hold for this year, as students face at least nine weeks of learning from home to avoid the coronavirus.

The federal government has granted a testing waiver, and Brian Gwyn, a legislative analyst and lawyer, said that’s all that’s required to cancel End of Grade and End of Course exams.

However, he said, "legislative action would be needed to address all the other statutes that rely on data from the assessments."

He said school letter grades, low-performing school labels, bonuses for principals and teacher, teacher evaluations and even promotion of third-graders to fourth grade are all tied by law to test scores.

Freebird McKinney, a Teacher of the Year who’s an adviser to the state board, told lawmakers the board may ask for calendar flexibility – not only for the end of the current school year but for the one that would normally start in late August, as required by state law.

"What we’re looking at is possibly calling it an extended education plan, and possibly granting permission to begin instructional days as early as the beginning of August," McKinney said.

The first two weeks of closings have been used to help educators and families gear up for remote learning, often based on internet lessons. Rep. Bobby Hanig, who represents four coastal counties, said his district lacks the internet access needed to make that work.

Deputy Superintendent Beverly Emory agreed that’s a hurdle.

"Our biggest challenge is broadband access," she said. "All the hotspots in the world, devices, are not going to help families and children who do not have broadband access."

Representative Craig Horn of Union County, a co-chair of the committee on education and COVID-19, reminded everyone that none of the options outlined are firm proposals, let alone final decisions.

"Don’t take any of these things that we’re looking at as fact, that we’re gonna do this or we’re gonna do that," Horn said. "That would be wrong-headed."   

Co-chair John Fraley of Iredell County went a step further: "As we get together next week I think you’ll see a lot of recommendations being made against the things that were talked about today."

The legislative group plans to meet weekly for the immediate future. Find meeting notices and an audio streaming link here, get more details about the House COVID-19 study groups here, and submit comments and questions here.

On Friday, the state Board of Education meets by conference callat 11 a.m. to consider some changes related to the coronavirus closure.

Click here for the latest coronavirus news on WFAE’s live blog.

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What questions do you have about the coronavirus? What has this experience been like for you? Share your questions below.


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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.