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CMS Drops Controversial New Tests

Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools is doing way with 52 new tests the district rolled out last year. Those tests were designed to help determine how well teachers are at getting their kids to learn and they were a source of a lot of controversy. Teachers learned about the change in an email Tuesday night. Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh says CMS will abandon its own efforts and partner with state officials as they work on a similar plan. WFAE's Lisa Miller is in the studio to talk about this decision. Mark Rumsey: Lisa, why did CMS decide to abandon tests that it's spent so much time and money on? LM: The district certainly has put a lot of effort into these tests. They tested kids in a wide variety of subjects. Kids as young as kindergarten were required to take them. CMS has been working on this for a couple years and spent about $2 million on coming up with the tests. The idea was to track student learning in all subjects, not just those with state end-of-year exams. But the state has been working on the same thing. Hattabaugh said it just wasn't clear until recently how seriously state officials were going about it. HATTABAUGH: Once they came out and said, "Here's our timeline and we've committed to going down this path," then we were fine with it. But at the time there was no commitment, no timeline. He says knowing that now it doesn't make sense to duplicate the state's efforts. He says it's not worth the time or the $300,000 CMS would spend on administering those tests this year. And just a side notein December, Hattabaugh had said the district wouldn't continue to design more tests as planned. MR: So will CMS students actually be taking those extra tests this year? LM: No, they won't, but they may have to take the state's version next year. CMS says the state wants to begin piloting those tests soon. And it's interesting to note that CMS will have a hand in designing the state's tests. Hattabaugh says CMS is the only district that's helping with the process. He says the state is trying to learn from the district's experience with the tests last year. MR: These tests were designed, Lisa, to evaluate how well teachers teach. Is that still the game plan? LM: Yes, it is. The idea is that these tests would generate a value-added score for a teacher. That's primarily based on how students perform on tests. But it takes into account about 40 different variables all with different weights. Things like the number of low-income students at a school, absences, and class size. And that's still the plan with the state's test, but they'll be using a private company called SAS to generate that score. Now, that concerns Kevin Strawn a teacher at East Meck. He's been part of a group of teachers the district has tapped to look at its value-added plan. STRAWN: SAS is a private company and they're process is proprietary and they don't want to share it, which always gives me concern when somebody says, 'You have to trust me on these numbers, but you can trust me because I know what I'm doing.' MR: And, Lisa, it's no secret that a lot of teachers haven't really trusted CMS throughout this process. Has that changed since former Superintendent Peter Gorman resigned and left the district? LM: A lot of that mistrust stemmed from Gorman's attempt to get a bill through the General Assembly that would allow the district to tie teacher pay to performance measures including those tests without teacher approval. That's now stalled and Hattabaugh hasn't done anything to push it forward. So I do believe teachers are feeling better about that at least. And the district's latest decision has gotten praise from The Classroom Teacher's Association of North Carolina. The group's president Judy Kidd said today she feels like the district is trying re-group and do what's best for all students. But Kevin Strawn, the teacher at East Meck, did point out that many of the same issues around testing and measuring teacher performance are still there, it'll just be coming from the state now and not the district.