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Editorial: Taking aim at testing

While legislators encountered swift and loud opposition when they proposed cutting the number of days in the school year, they’re finding a much more receptive audience for proposals to do another kind of cutting ó in the number of standardized tests students are required to take.
The state Senate has proposed eliminating several tests currently administered to North Carolina students. Possibly on the chopping block are state tests designed to gauge students’ knowledge of algebra II, geometry, physics and physical science, along with an eighth-grade computer skills tests. The Senate proposal follows the lines of what Gov. Beverly Perdue, a former educator, previously proposed as part of her budget plan: dump most standardized tests not required for high school graduation or by federal law. Her proposal has drawn strong support from the N.C. Association of Educators.
The N.C. House, meanwhile, is also on board with the cut-the-tests theme, but its proposal would eliminate fewer exams than the Senate and governor. That follows the preferences of state education officials who want to keep some of the end-of-grade science and math tests proposed for elimination.
Those differences of opinion among state leaders point to the difficulty in striking the right balance when it comes to teaching and standardized testing. Many people may favor streamlining the sometimes confusing array of state and federal tests used to measure the performance of schools and school systems, as well as individual students. Amid concerns that teachers spend more time preparing students for tests than preparing them for lifelong thinking and learning, it’s easy to cheer on legislators determined to dismantle part of the much-maligned testing regimen.
But even the most strident critics would acknowledge that less testing might open the door to less accountability and lower achievement. Underscoring that concern should be the testing areas on the block, predominantly in math and science. Those are the very areas where students most need to sharpen their skills if they’re going to be prepared for 21st century life and work. Consider that at the same time state officials are looking at reducing math and science tests, leaders of the N.C. Research Campus are discussing ways to expand the pool of workers who’ll be qualified for biotech jobs ó jobs that require a solid foundation in science and math.
When legislators proposed cutting the number of days in the school year, there was an immediate and well-justified outcry about the potential impact on students. The calls to reduce testing deserve just as rigorous a debate ó and for the same reason. While lowering the number of tests, we can’t afford to lower standards and shortchange North Carolina students who must be prepared to compete in the global economy.

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