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2011 May 2 - 12:00 am

TRACKING TRENDS : 11th Graders Would Take ACT Exam under NC Plan

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The North Carolina Legislature this year took away several end-of-course standardized tests high schoolers must take. Now lawmakers are considering adding new ones that educators say will more accurately measure student performance in the state and nationwide.

The House Education Committee agreed to legislation requiring North Carolina’s roughly 100,000 11th graders to take for free the ACT national college entrance exam starting next school year if state funds — possibly several million dollars — are available.

Students also would take ACT pretests in eighth and 10th grades to help determine if they are on track to be prepared to attend a university or community college. The results would be used by teachers to diagnose shortcomings in student performance in areas such as English, reading, science and math.

The ACT, a widely used college exam along with the SAT, is considered the test that best measures whether a student is meeting new academic standards being assembled by more than 40 states, in part because it focuses more on subject matter than on general aptitude, said Rep. Tricia Cotham, a sponsor of the bipartisan bill. Other states already are using the ACT to measure whether students are prepared for college.

Lawmakers have heard complaints for years from parents and teachers that too much classroom time is set aside for curriculum designed only to ensure students will score well on end-of-grade and end-of-course tests.

“It’s not teaching to the test. This is a more formative test so that you can use feedback to drive instruction,” said Cotham, a Democrat, about the bill now heading to the full House. “This will allows us to be ready for 21st century learning.”

The switch is part of a long-term plan already being carried out by the State Board of Education and urged by lawmakers to alter how student and teacher performance is measured. The board last summer agreed to North Carolina adopting the so-called “Common Core Standards” and to test students using nationally recognized exams.

Two years ago, the General Assembly passed legislation that eliminated funding for some state-administered tests. Last month, Gov. Beverly Perdue let a bill become law without her signature that ended standardized tests in U.S. history, algebra 2, physical science and civics and economics.

The State Board of Education supports Cotham’s bill, said Rebecca Garland, chief academic officer for the Department of Public Instruction. Efforts are under way to create diagnostic tests and replacements for current North Carolina end-of-grade and end-of-course tests that will evaluate whether students are meeting the Common Core curriculum, she said. New end-of-year tests won’t be ready until 2014.

The bill also will require local school districts to make available career tests available for students taking advanced course work in vocational or career education. The “WorkKeys” tests are well recognized and a high score in a certain area could help a student land a job in their field of interest right out of high school, Cotham said.

Carrying out all the tests would cost $6.5 million annually, according to a fiscal memo by a legislative staff member. It’s unclear if the Legislature will set aside enough money in next year’s budget.

The SAT or similar test could be used as a replacement for the ACT if the board deems it most appropriate to assess student achievement. Garland said state education officials wouldn’t require an 11th grader to take the ACT if the child already took the SAT and scored above a certain level to exhibit college readiness.

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