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Charlotte Observer: CMS Scraps 52 Controversial Year-End Exams, Teacher Ratings

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is scrapping 52 controversial year-end exams, including one-on-one testing for children as young as kindergarten, and the "value-added" test-score ratings that had teachers up in arms last spring. Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh emailed CMS employees about the reversal Tuesday night, saying that the CMS efforts duplicate state programs paid for with federal "Race to the Top" money. Some critics raised that concern last year, but Hattabaugh said Tuesday night that the duplication "wasn't clear yet" when CMS pushed ahead. He told the board that abandoning the CMS tests and ratings in favor of state ones represents "a change in procedure but not direction." CMS spent $2 million developing end-of-year tests for all subjects in all grades that are not covered by state exams. That included reading, math, social studies and science tests for grades K-2, which had to be administered one child at a time, and tests for an array of high-school electives. CMS, supported by private and federal grant money, also devised complex formulas to use those scores, along with results from state exams, to gauge how much each teacher contributed to student learning. As news of the tests broke last spring, parents and teachers held meetings, launched online petitions and lobbied the school board about what they saw as too much testing that threatened to squeeze out more valuable classroom activities. Some parents kept their children home when CMS gave the new tests in May. "Enough testing is enough. Find another way to evaluate your staff," one irate PTA leader wrote to then-Superintendent Peter Gorman and the school board. Gorman, who resigned in June to work for News Corp. developing education technology, was the biggest booster, stating proudly that the new exams would put CMS at the nation's forefront in testing. He said the cost was justified by the benefit to students that would result from improving teacher effectiveness. Mary McCray, who criticized the testing and ratings as president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators, was one of two new board members elected in November. Now, CMS will let the state develop additional tests and the value-added formulas that will eventually be used in teacher and principal evaluations. State officials will look at CMS' work, Hattabaugh said. He said CMS will save "easily" $300,000 a year on administering and scoring its own tests. The district will continue developing tests for physical education, performing arts and foreign language because the state is not covering those subjects. CMS will also continue "formative" tests given during the year to size up student progress. The email went out at the start of Tuesday's school board meeting, which featured a report from half a dozen teachers who have been helping CMS look at additional ways to identify, reward and develop effective teaching. Some said they'd been skeptical going in, but are now convinced CMS is treating them as professionals. The CMS plan still calls for a new pay and evaluation system to be tested next year and launched fully in 2013-14. Board member Tom Tate asked human resources staff what would happen if the board did not approve the plan. The board took no votes on pay, testing or evaluations Tuesday. Copyright 2012 The Charlotte Observer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.