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Education

NC superintendent calls for changes in state exams and school performance grades

East Meck testing.jpeg
Ann Doss Helms
/
WFAE
East Mecklenburg High students taking tests in the school media center.

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt said Monday that neither the state’s standardized exams nor the school performance grades that are based on them do a good job of measuring school quality.

In 2014, North Carolina started grading public schools on an A-to-F scale based on their students’ performance on state reading, math and science exams. Truitt told a House panel on the future of public education that it’s time for that to change.

Catherine Truitt.jpg
Catherine Truitt campaign
Catherine Truitt

"The reason I believe that we need to transform this K-12 accountability model is that it’s not an accurate representation of how we should be defining school quality," she said. "We need to redefine school accountability and redefine what student testing looks like."

Truitt, a Republican elected in 2020, was emphatic but not specific about her concerns with the exams. "The tests that we give at the end of the year are not good tests," she said in response to a lawmaker's question.

She said she thinks it's fine for school ratings to include measures of student proficiency and growth in academics. But she said a meaningful rating system needs to go further. For instance, she said, it could measure whether lower grades offer tutoring programs and after-school robotics clubs, how many high school students enroll in free community college classes and how parents rate their schools on surveys.

The federal government lays down some rules for school accountability, which states have to meet to qualify for federal money. But the specifics are set by the General Assembly.

Moving toward a workforce focus

Truitt said a better accountability system is a step toward aligning K-12 education with workforce demands. She said schools should do more to teach what she calls “durable skills,” such as perseverance and collaboration.

She wasn't specific about how to measure such skills. But she said career-tech classes model an approach that should be expanded, with students doing projects that require skills employers value. And she said students can earn credentials that lead to employment right after graduation.

"We need to make sure that our students are introduced to the notion of the K-12 journey as a career path early on," she said. "Students need to hear about something other than becoming a doctor or a lawyer or a nurse. And the 'college for all' cry from the '90s and 2000s needs to become 'careers for all.' "

Truitt says she hopes to bring state officials a plan for a better school accountability system this fall. She said it will reflect a "Portrait of a Graduate" approach being used in South Carolina, Georgia and some North Carolina school districts, such as Cumberland County.

Committee goes on the road

Meanwhile, the House Select Committee on an Education System for North Carolina's Future will continue studying a broad range of issues, including how the state funds schools and how teachers are compensated.

Chairs include Reps. John Torbett of Gaston County and David Willis of Union County. Torbett said Monday that the committee will meet in both counties in the coming weeks to hear about what local districts are doing.

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