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State No Longer Links Student Advancement to End-of-Year Tests

The North Carolina State Board of Education has done away with a requirement meant to prevent failing students from advancing to the next grade. State education officials say districts weren't really following the strict standard anyway, so they've eliminated it. For all the stress and stigma attached to "getting held back a grade," sometimes it's the best option for a struggling student. That was the thinking behind a policy the North Carolina state board of education created ten years ago: 3rd, 5th and 8th graders must pass a year-end test before moving to the next grade. But State Superintendent June Atkinson says the policy hasn't worked. "When we looked at the data, we did not see any significant difference in how many students were retained or promoted," says Atkinson That's mainly because the policy allows school districts to make exceptions - and they often do. Christopher Cobitz in the CMS office of accountability doesn't know how many students in the district are promoted to the next grade without passing the year-end test. But he says CMS is careful to focus on how well students are performing, "so that children do not simply get passed from one grade to another." Even if a child does not do well on a standardize test, Cobitz says the district looks for "some indication the child is performing and learning and coming up to the expectations of the school." Students will still be required to take end-of-grade tests. But now that those tests won't be so closely tied to student promotion, State Superintendent June Atkinson hopes schools will focus on small calibrations in a student's performance year-round. "We have many more tools to help improve instruction along the way rather than waiting until the end of the grade or end of the year to do assessment of how students are learning," says Atkinson. Practically speaking, the change is likely to have little effect on how districts are promoting or holding back students. But Atkinson says districts will save time and money because now they won't have to go through an official waiver process when they want to advance a student who didn't pass the test.