N.C. Teachers Sue Over State Test

Teacher & Employment Testing

The North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE), joined by two county school boards, has filed a class-action suit to block a new state test required of teachers in low-performing schools. Under a 1997 state law, schools were ranked by student scores on North Carolina's "End-of-Grade" exams. Teachers were selected for competency testing on the basis of schoolwide scores. Plaintiffs in the suit argue that the state's reading and math tests "have never been validated as indicators of the performance of individual teachers."

On June 12, the competency test will be given to 247 teachers and principals from 15 schools, all with overwhelmingly poor student populations, that were judged low-performing based on student test scores and were assigned special State Board of Education "assistance teams."

In 1999-2000, the state testing program will expand to include thousands of educators from more than 100 low-performing schools, whether or not they have been assigned assistance teams. Teachers who fail the test three times could lose their licenses under the new state law.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit argue that relying on student test scores to measure teacher competence is irrational, failing to take into account such strong determinants of student scores as family income and parental level of education. The State Board of Education's own validation study, conducted by the Evaluation and Assessment Laboratory of the University of Alabama in November 1996, states that student scores "cannot be used . . . to directly assess individual teacher performance." All of the teachers named as plaintiffs in the suit have received State Board ratings of "at-standard" or "above-standard" on performance reviews. In an affidavit for the plaintiffs, a 35-year teaching veteran, who headed one of the assistance teams, warned that the test could drive out one of the best teachers he has ever observed because it "will not reveal her greatest strength -- her ability to teach."

The plaintiffs also take issue with the state's decision to use the Florida College-Level Academic Skills Test (CLAST) (see Examiner, Summer 1996) as a teacher competency test. Developed to determine whether college students in Florida should be promoted from sophomore to junior status, the CLAST has not been validated as a general knowledge test for certified teachers. "The use of such an unvalidated test is a clear violation of the professional standards for educational and psychological testing, which are accepted by the legal and academic community," the plaintiffs argue. No other state gives competency tests to existing teachers.

Even the State Board of Education has concluded that the teacher competency test is a bad idea, but says the law requires its administration. The Board did drop the math portion of the test, apparently because many state officials found it surprisingly difficult.