Diane Ravitch and Heath Morrison form an unlikely mutual admiration society.
"He pretty much said, 'Watch me,' " Ravitch said Wednesday.
After Morrison was hired to lead Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, he posted a recommended reading list. Ravitch's "The Death and Life of the Great American School System" was featured prominently. But what persuaded Ravitch that Morrison was really different was a December article in the Observer reporting his strong criticism of North Carolina's testing program. In her education blog, Ravitch hailed "wonderful news from Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina," and said that because of his comments, she would "happily add Heath Morrison to the honor roll as a champion of American public education."
Meanwhile, the struggle over testing in North Carolina continues. MecklenburgACTS, which fought Gorman's testing push, has launched a new petition drive to get the state to postpone and rethink its latest round of testing, which is tied to national Common Core standards. UNCC students have created United to End Standardized Testing, or UnTEST. Mooresville Superintendent Mark Edwards, recently named national Superintendent of the Year, is working with Morrison to try to persuade state officials that while some testing is helpful and appropriate, the current plans go too far.
Rebecca Garland, chief academic officer for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, says opponents are exaggerating the scope of new testing. In the December article, Morrison referred to 177 new state tests, a number that MecklenburgACTS leaders Pamela Grundy and Carol Sawyer repeated in an opinion piece on the Observer's editorial page this week.
"Never, at any point in time, has NCDPI planned to implement 177 new tests across the state," Garland writes in a rebuttal submitted to the Observer today. "In 2012-13, there were 35 new tests, but for many different subjects that have not been traditionally tested. We will add an additional nine next year."
Here is Garland's description of the new tests, which is the most detailed I've seen:
Of the 35 added this year, six are specifically to meet the needs of students in the Occupational Course of Study, which is designed for students with disabilities. Within the 35, there also are exams designed for various implementation plans for the new standards. For example, a typical high school junior would only take one math Common Exam. The district will select from four options (Algebra II, Common Core Math III, Common Core Integrated Math III, and Common Core Algebra II) based on decisions they have made locally about transitioning to the new standards.
At the high school level, new tests should REPLACE current tests that teachers are using during the regular final exam schedule. For example, a World History student who previously spent 90 minutes taking a teacher-made final exam will now spend that time taking a Common Exam in World History. No additional testing time is required.
At the middle school level there will be five new assessments -- two in science (grades 6 and 7) and three in social studies (one each for grades 6-8). This ensures no students are left out when we look at the picture of teacher impact on student growth. For example, a seventh-grade teacher may teach English to 25 students and social studies to 60 other students. Should we ignore those 60 students when we look at how students are growing? The answer, of course, is no.
At the elementary level, there are three new exams – fourth-grade social studies and science and fifth-grade social studies – that schools may use if they need to or if they choose to use them. A school would need to use these only if they had elementary school teachers who do not teach English Language Arts or mathematics. For example, if a fifth-grade teacher were to teach only science and social studies, their school would need a way to measure the impact of that teacher on their students. That’s where these new exams would be used.