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Now: Set Aside NC Test-Score Laws. Later: Revamp Education?

The North Carolina Board of Education on Thursday approved a wish list of temporary legislative changes to get through this year’s coronavirus crisis. But a state lawmaker says policymakers also need to think about long-term change. 

With state End of Grade and End of Course exams waived because of school closings, the state board unanimously voted to ask the General Assembly to temporarily set aside all the lawsthat require test-score data – things like school ratings, teacher and principal bonuses, evaluations of teacher effectiveness and student promotion to fourth grade.

The board is also seeking changes in licensure laws to make sure student teachers and new teachers facing a deadline to pass licensing exams aren’t penalized by the closing of schools and testing centers.

State board Chair Eric Davis said the waiver requests aren’t about backing down from high academic standards. "Consideration of these requests are necessitated by the unique events of COVID-19," he said.

State Rep. Craig Horn of Union County co-chairs a House panel that’s reviewing those options. He says lawmakers need to make short-term changes, but also lay the groundwork for a revamp of public education.

He compares the situation to fighting a fire: "First thing is we’ve got to survive where we are. Then we’ve got to develop that long-term strategy for where we’ll be when we get the fire put out."

Horn’s panel has to recommend survival strategies when the General Assembly convenes April 28. But he says the forced switch to online education will transform how the state delivers and evaluates education.

"I’m not so sure we’ll ever be back to what we used to call normal," he said.

Neither the state board nor the House panel took up some of the most urgent questions for students and their families: How will students be graded and promoted? Will seniors have graduation ceremonies? Will anyone return to class this school year?

Gov. Roy Cooper has ordered schools closed through at least May 15. Education officials say they’re waiting to see whether he extends that to decide how to close out the year.

State Board of Education member Alan Duncan told the board North Carolina will get about $390 million from the federal COVID-19 relief package, with at least 90% of it required to be distributed to local school districts. But he said the timing and requirements for spending that money remain unknown.

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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.