Rowan-Salisbury school board votes to end kindergarten assessments in district’s first renewal decision

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 28, 2018

SALISBURY — The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education on Monday voted to follow the recommendation of teachers and ditch kindergarten entry assessments.

But discussions about other staff recommendations proved to be thornier affairs.

Superintendent Lynn Moody walked board members through ideas and recommendations that teachers put forth at an Aug. 16 meeting of design teams. The groups — one for each school — are responsible for brainstorming and discussing ways that the school system might take advantage of its new charter-like flexibilities as a renewal school district.

Teachers unanimously agreed that they wanted to get rid of state-required tests like the kindergarten assessment and North Carolina final exams. These tests do not count toward a school’s assessment-determined “grade” and do not count toward advancement. Instead, the exams often mean extra work for teachers and extra stress on students.

“(Teachers) don’t think this is the most valuable use of their time,” Moody said of the tests.

After a short discussion, the board unanimously voted to get rid of the kindergarten assessments.

“That’s our first decision under renewal,” Moody said after the vote.

“I feel like there should be balloons or something,” board Chairman Josh Wagner joked.

It quickly proved to be the easiest decision. When it came to dismissing North Carolina final exams, the board balked. Board members argued that they don’t want to cut tests just because they can, nor do they want to negatively impact academic rigor.

“That category is something I would like to discuss at our retreat,” board member Travis Allen said. “We’re renewal so we can increase renewal, not decrease accountability.”

Aleisha Burnette, director of accountability for the district, said the tests are simple multiple-choice exams. Teachers, she said, would like the opportunity to measure student achievement in other ways — such as final projects. North Rowan High School, the first school in the district to take advantage of a charter-like flexibility, has already dropped the state final exam for social studies. Instead, students work on intensive projects designed to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the subject.

However, board members still were not convinced.

“There has to be in this process some standard higher than just a teacher in a classroom,” Allen argued.

Wagner said the tests are not used to prepare for, evaluate or remediate for end-of-grade or end-of-course assessments. Moody added that teachers want to teach more content that would be practical for students, instead of teaching for a test.

“I don’t think our teachers are looking at doing less. They want testing that doesn’t inform instruction,” Moody said.

But Allen said that tests do serve an important purpose. Students — he used his own children as an example — are often able “to ride the coattails” of smarter students when it comes to in-class work, but when test time comes up, their lack of knowledge makes itself apparent. Tests, he argued, are a way to ensure that all students pull their own weight.

Wagner suggested bringing the subject back at a board renewal retreat, to be held Sept. 10.

Moody also said teachers expressed interest in lowering the number of end-of-grade and end-of-course tests. This is not a flexibility granted under renewal, but teachers and staff members said it is one they want to fight for.

“There’s lots of thoughts that we are way over testing our students,” Moody said.

But board members hesitated once again. Dean Hunter wondered how reducing the number of EOGs and EOCs would affect the district’s school performance grades. While many in education argue that the grades do little more than highlight areas of poverty, Hunter pointed out that to the community, the grades’ validity don’t matter.

“They exist, and they carry a lot of weight,” he said. “And I’m wondering how renewal will affect that.”

Moody said it is just an option educators want to explore and collect more information on — not one they want to pursue just yet. The board agreed to discuss the matter at the upcoming retreat.

Teachers also asked for increased calendar flexibility. Those attending the Aug. 16 meeting unanimously said they would like to do away with the traditional school calendar. Instead, they suggested an early-start calendar — such as that used by Rowan County Early College — a year-round calendar, or even a four-day calendar.

“We’ve been asking for flexibility in this all along,” Moody said of calendars.

Board members said some of the suggestions might be taking too much advantage of the state-offered flexibilities.

“What I want to see is some consistency,” Wagner said.

He added he’d also like to see an academic benefit to any calendar change — so the district is not changing things up just because it can. Calendar changes also need further input from the community, he said.

“If we’re going to do something different at the elementary or middle school level, I think we need to have dramatic parent involvement,” he said. “…We really need to wrestle with as a board how we disseminate this to the community.”

The board will need to give some direction on calendar before the district calendar committee meets in November. The bulk of the discussion will be reserved for the board retreat.

Board members also heard proposals about abolishing school improvement teams and guidelines for hiring renewal teachers. More discussion is planned at the board retreat, which will begin at 8 a.m. Sept. 10 at the Wallace Educational Forum board room, 500 N. Main St.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.