North Carolina Lawmakers Alter Testing Plan

Teacher & Employment Testing

Thanks to a last-minute reworking of North Carolina's year-old K-12 accountability law, teachers at the state's "lowest-performing" schools did not have to take a controversial competency exam this year. Before the Excellent Schools Act was amended, teachers, principals and counselors from 15 schools -- all with overwhelmingly low-income student populations -- were supposed to sit for the June 12 administration of the state's new teacher test (see Examiner, Spring 1998).

Now, teachers at the schools deemed "low-performing" (on the basis of student scores on state tests) will be evaluated by State Board of Education "special assistance" teams. Only those teachers given the lowest teaching ratings and found to be lacking "general knowledge" will be forced to take the competency tests. During the past school year, 55 teachers were evaluated as a "3", the lowest rating, but 27 of them moved to higher rankings on subsequent evaluations. Of the remaining 28 teachers, eight retired and the other 20 did not lack general knowledge, according to evaluators.

The revised law gives teachers who fail the test just one chance to retake it and avoid dismissal, after they receive more training at state expense. The original version allowed teachers three opportunities to pass before facing dismissal.

State senators approved the changes by a vote of 42-1. Some of the lawmakers who led the initial push for teacher testing voted in favor of the modification because they came to believe educators' arguments that the testing requirements were encouraging teachers to avoid serving in districts with low-performing schools.

The North Carolina Association of Educators, which had threatened to boycott the exam, mounted an extensive e-mail lobbying campaign and filed a class-action lawsuit to block the state test.