Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Questions about state's final exams

The "incomplete" grades expected to show up on Charlotte-Mecklenburg high school report cards soon may be just the start of an uproar over state exams that are causing delayed grades.

North Carolina created 30 final exams that will be used to evaluate teacher and school effectiveness  --  and which have to count for 20 percent of students' final grades in those courses. After I wrote last week about delays in translating those scores to letter grades,  I heard from a handful of teachers and parents who said the exams don't match the material being taught.

"My son is a junior in high school and this past week had to take his honors pre-calculus exam.  On that exam were four questions never covered in the curriculum," wrote Anita Gimon of Union County. "Why is there subject matter on a test not in the curriculum during the semester? This was a problem as well last year. Students who normally made 80s & 90s on their tests were averaging 40s because the test did not match the curriculum. This seems to me to be a system that sets our kids up for failure."

"My daughter took the Math 3 exam yesterday and was pretty upset afterwards," wrote Susan Flynn.  "Half of the material was familiar to her, about half was not."

"The passages from the test last year  --  the only available preparatory material released by the state  --  are incredibly difficult and would be considered challenging in an AP-level course.  I know, because I teach standard, honors, and AP English 12,"  wrote Tiffany DiMatteo, a national board certified English teacher at Myers Park High.  "It feels as though NC wants to prove that students and teachers are failing by providing a terrible test that is being poorly planned, administered, and scored."

Chuck Nusinov,  executive director of learning and teaching for CMS,  says he has checked into that kind of concern.  The tests do appear to match the curriculum introduced last year,  which reflects national Common Core and N.C. Essential Standards,  he said.  The academic standards and the exams are designed to ensure that students learn more rigorous material and express that knowledge in more sophisticated ways on tests,  he said.  That should be a good thing in the long run,  but in the short run it means scores are down.

Nusinov says the challenges and confusion are particularly strong in math,  where the state also switched from a series of algebra and geometry classes to a new progression of math classes that incorporate various skills each year.  He said CMS is working to make sure teachers know what's expected,  but he knows teachers and students are struggling with the transition.

Students took the new finals last year,  but CMS opted not to count the scores toward grades because the tests were new.  This year it's not optional.  So first-semester report cards are expected to come out with incompletes for classes with state finals,  to be replaced with letter grades that factor in those tests once the state completes its tables for converting raw scores to grades.  That's bound to come as a shock to students who are used to making higher grades and who are watching their grade-point averages for college admissions.


Anonymous said...

Charter Schools must not have done anything wrong this past week. Nothing has been written about them.

Anonymous said...

10 thousand years of World History assessed with a 41 question multiple choice test. To make things worse the NC Final had a at least 10 questions on the 20th Century. The difficulties for students and teacher: WHAT TO FOCUS ON. Most teacher made assessments are at least 200 questions but the state can do it in 40.

FYI - Here is a link to the standards provided for NC. Now you figure out what to teach or study for.


Pamela Grundy said...

One of the big problems with these exams is that they do not count for substantial portions of students' grades because they effectively assess what students should have learned. They count for substantial portions of students' grades in order to force students to take them seriously, so that the scores can be used in a highly problematic effort to evaluate teachers. Sadly, as with many of these so-called "reform" efforts, it's the students who will be hurt the most. Parents should be up in arms.

Anonymous said...

Between this and the perpetual problems with PowerSchool we should be embarrassed. Now CMS has begun to aggressively recruit teachers from out of the area. With a history of making cuts that in the past has caused many teachers to lose their jobs at the conclusion of the school year - what incentive is there? In addition, neighboring districts over the border in SC actually pay more than CMS - what is wrong with this picture. Heath Morrison - where are you? Even if some of the issues are State problems, what have you done as the voice for CMS?

Cookie said...

Is tomorrow the first day of third quarter at the CMS high schools or a re-testing day?

BolynMcClung said...


In just weeks the nation will be looking at North Carolina and saying…

… "No wonder it has the worst paid teachers. Their students aren't learning."

That would be the wrong conclusion. There is no connection between teacher pay and test results while the state experiments with education.

I call for an emergency session of the General Assembly. The subjects would be:

1. The course of study for K12 education
2. How it is delivered.
3. Who will manage the system.

Bolyn McClung

Shamash said...

Well, everyone looks kinda dumb when the tests don't match the material studied.


That trips me up every time.

So, either the teachers aren't teaching the right material, or the tests aren't testing the right material.

In a world of "standards", that SHOULD be easy enough to determine.

What else can you say?

The only other thing I can add is that I NEVER expect to see the exact same math problems on a test that I've studied for.

Just the same concepts applied to different problems.

Maybe some people are expecting "rote" learning in math?

Anonymous said...

My son took the World History state test last week. He said there were several questions where you read a passage and then answered questions on the passage. That isn't World History. That is Reading Comprehension.

And who is being punished for these new tests - the KIDS. It is extremely frustrating as a parent.

Also, all levels take the same exam. What sense does that make? Honors courses receive an extra point towards their weighted GPA. The exam should be harder than the Regular courses. Make these kids earn that extra point.

I just don't understand these new tests.

Anonymous said...

Hope these delayed grades (especially semester/year course grades) do not affect seniors who have applied to colleges and need these grades for their grade point averages.

Pamela Grundy said...

Parents of high school students who have concerns about this new round of North Carolina Final Exams might want to sign up for the MecklenburgACTS newsletter at mecklenburgacts.org. We will be circulating information about the exams in the next few weeks. Anyone with a story they'd like us to know about can e-mail us at info@mecklenburgacts.org.

Shamash said...

Anon 6:57 am,

Man, those World History "standards" are all over the map.

But I guess that's what you'd expect from World History.

However, they did say they would mostly focus on the last 500 years.

So you can safely omit the Cro-Magnon/Neanderthal clashes.

And just about anything to do with the formation of all world religions and the foundations of most languages and legal systems.

And anything really "ancient" involving languages no one speaks anymore like all that silly Greek, Roman, and Egyptian stuff.

Whew, that's a big relief right there.

Based on my experience in HS History, I'd say focus on teaching the kids to read at an eight grade level first.

Because I hated reading those History tests to the basketball players.

Anonymous said...

Reading is important to study of history. Informational literacy is an important skill! Reading is not just fiction.

Anonymous said...

These are the released exams from last year. The problem is not with the teachers.


Anonymous said...

1. Tomorrow is a make-up exam day for High School students. No clue about middle/elementary kids.

2. The standards are so incredibly broad and as there are no "prep" materials beyond the released test from last year. Nothing. When I plan an exam for my students, I tell them that their exam will focus on X,Y,Z as that is what we have covered. The State says, the exam will cover A-Z...some hieroglyphics, irrational numbers, and a partridge in a pear tree. What the state has done is not what is considered a "best practice".

3. Should Honors take more challenging exams than Standard? Why? They do more challenging work in class and on in-class assessments, etc. No matter what "level" you take you are all going to apply with the same college app, job app, take the same SAT/ACT, etc. The "Honors" moniker is for the class...not the testing.

Shabbat Shalom said...

Just curious why my CMS high schooler doesn't have to go to school tomorrow? Make up tests, why wasn't testing finished last week?

Anonymous said...

what is really unfair is that a Senior who took a core class this semester (e.g. Honors English) will not have their state exam count as 25% of their grade (because the grading may take an inordinate amount of time), but a Senior who takes the same class next semester will have the same irrational test count 25% toward their grade for the class.
On what planet does this make sense?

Anonymous said...

When the state says, "grading is going to take too long, we will give you an Incomplete and fix it later", that is supposed to be ok.

What happens if an teacher doesn't finish grading a complex project in time for grades to close? Do they have the opportunity to give an Incomplete until they have time to finish their grading, or would they be subject to reprimand and potential loss of their job?

Just sayin'....

Anonymous said...

@12:06 Anonymous. You are incorrect, whoever told you that is mistaken. The reason an incomplete is being given is to accommodate the state as the exam DOES count 25%.

@Shamash. The state sets a testing window and it opened last week on Tuesday...exams could not begin before then and as Q2 technically ends tomorrow, and there are 4 blocks of testing + a required make-up day that means from Tuesday until Friday were exams and the required make-up day must be tomorrow. Additionally, I really wish you'd bring your know-it-all behind into a classroom since you think you're the end all be all...sheesh.

Anonymous said...

...or Shabbat Shalom...whoever asked the question re: the testing window. The last part though is definitely Shamash as this person thinks everyone but him/herself is a moron.

Pamela Grundy said...

Just for the record, it is my understanding that this particular round of exams do not in fact count for seniors because of potential delays in sending first-semester grades to colleges. Supposedly, this will not be a problem in subsequent years, because the grading scale will be set. (Grades on these exams will not follow the standard state grading scale of 93% and above being an "A," etc., because standardized test grading compares students to each other, rather than against a set rubric.)

Of course, if test grades don't count for one group of seniors but do count for another, not only is that entirely unfair, but it will likely also have complicated effects on the "grades" of the teachers who taught them.

The upshot of all of this is that these exams are not designed to be "fair" to students. They are designed to produce numbers that can be used to evaluate teachers. If you look at them from the perspective of fairness to students, they make no sense at all. If you look at them from the perspective of fairness to teachers, they don't make much sense either. This is the lunacy that students, parents and teachers have to live with these days.

Again, if you're interested in updates on the situation, you might sign up for the MecklenburgACTS newsletter at mecklenburgacts.org.

Anonymous said...

When you say "North Carolina created 30 final exams....." who exactly creates and oversees these exams--the state legislature, the DPI, June Atkinson (state superintendent of Public Instruction), or the NC State Board of Education? Exams have been ramping up for a long time, not just under the current legislature. June Atkinson was superintendent under Perdue so has been there for a while. State board members serve are appointed by the gov. I think and serve staggered 8 year terms, so most members probably were appointed under previous administrations. Anyway--who's in charge or is it a huge NC bureaucratic mess?

Pamela Grundy said...

Actually, it's a federal mess, because the exams have been created by the NC DPI in response to requirements in North Carolina's Race to the Top grant and No Child Left Behind Waiver.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Shabbat, I was just having that conversation with another parent, whose daughter was told by the teacher, "I can't tell you not to come, but we won't be doing anything but makeup testing." I guarantee if I call the principal or anyone in CMS admin, I'd be told that students absolutely are expected to be in school and that there are 180 days of instruction. But there are a whole lot of other people who would say the reality is that days like this are lost to testing.

Shamash said...

Anon 11:21

I only missed one of the multiple choice World History questions, Q:10,

And I particularly enjoyed question 2 (Shoutout to my main man!).

My impression of the multiple choice section is that many of the questions could be answered through reading comprehension and just thinking about which answer best fit the general conditions of the question.

For example,

Q5. According to the map, how was the Silk Road associated with the development of cities.

The ONLY answer that even addresses the gist of the question is A.

Q8.How did the printing revolution contribute to increased global interaction?

Again, all answers except A are somewhat ridiculous and miss the whole point of the question.

There's a LOT of that in the test.

In my opinion, of course.

Anonymous said...

@12:50 Anonymous

I am very correct. This decision was made so that Seniors who are on track to graduate at the end of the first semester will not have their final grade delayed.

Ann, could you please ask for a response to this specific question from CMS?

These are the kinds of "back room deals" that need to be brought out into the open so that public really understands the mess that has been created. This mess will only have a negative impact on students, all in the name of trying to say how terrible our teachers are so that discussions about improving compensation can be avoided.

Shamash said...

Anon 12:50pm.

Hey, I just aced the World History exam without studying.

Can't I just skip class, teach?

Or are they having make-up day?

My know-it-all behind has been in class before.

As for the morons out there.

It's all relative.

Anonymous said...

A poster above stated it's the kids who are being punished. Not so. Their grades will be curved ( that's the reason for the delay). It will be TEACHERS who will be punished. The scores used to evaluate them will derived from the actual scores - NOT the curved ones! And, the teachers were not allowed to know what was even going to be on the tests! Judged on a secret test comprised of " shot-in-the-dark" questions. Oh yeah - that's a great way to attract and retain good teachers!

Shamash said...

Well, I don't think any World History teacher should be judged on their student's results on the test I just read.

At least not the multiple guess section.

But again, just my opinion.

Ann Doss Helms said...

On the senior exemption, yes, that is true. From the story I posted last week (link in first sentence of this post): "Seniors’ grades will be based on factors other than the exams so no one’s graduation will be delayed, CMS Chief Accountability Officer Frank Barnes reported."

And they may actually go through this again next year. The state folks I talked to said they anticipate revisions to the tests, so first semester 2015 may bring similar delays.

Wiley Coyote said...

Philadelphia Cheating Probe Implicates More Than 130 Educators

By Lesli A. Maxwell on January 21, 2014 9:04 AM

Three high school principals have been fired and more than 130 other current and former educators in the Philadelphia school system are facing disciplinary actions for their alleged involvement in cheating on state tests, according to numerous local media accounts.

And the Philadelphia Inquirer reported over the weekend that a state criminal investigation is under way into the allegations that widespread cheating on state exams occurred in city schools during 2009, 2010, and 2011.

Allegations of cheating first cropped up in 2011, and a pair of investigations by the school district and the state education agency have been unfolding ever since.

The scale of the cheating and the numbers of educators implicated are similar to what unfolded in Atlanta, where 35 educators ended up being indicted by a grand jury, including former superintendent Beverly Hall. Many have recently pleaded guilty to lesser charges in exchange for their cooperation with prosecutors.

Cheating. Coming to a school district near you.

Anonymous said...

That's not what the Seniors at our school were told. It's all a mess. Obviously.

Anonymous said...

Last years test are not the same tests as the NC Final. They are different in content and types of questions. These tests have never been field tested and are being used to gauge of student growth, teacher effectiveness and will count 25% of student grades. This is a no win situation for students, teachers and parents.

I know several teachers who have tried to review the raw data from the test but they are not allowed to see the results until dpi curves the test. One test administrator told a teacher that the raw score was to complicated for them to understand.

Anonymous said...

Pamela says "This is the lunacy that students, parents and teachers have to live with these days."

I really have to laugh at all of this NONSENSE. So glad we took our kids out of CMS a few years ago, and never looked back. What a mess.

Chipper said...


MORE information about the benefits of later high school start times. The teenaged students would perform better on all these state tests if school didn't start at 7:15am. Just sayin.

Anonymous said...

More testing... Awesome.. Reading and answer questions, regardless of content, is reading comprehension. What is wrong with this place.. Kids are unhappy.. Parents are unhappy and teachers are unhappy. We need to take are schools back. Tell downtown, Raleigh and the Feds to go to hell.. We need local schools with local solutions.

Nameless said...

Grades aren't everything. I could teach my very smart and common sense-filled son computer programming, plumbing, HVAC, electrical work and auto mechanics, then help him get certified. I can teach him to run a business efficiently, cleanly and charge through the nose. Grades won't matter; a plumber can make more per hour than low level attorneys.

Charles D. said...

I just read an article about the Best undergraduate colleges, and some do not even have "traditional" tests anymore, not really sure what that means.

We are doing our children a disservice by not motivating, inspiring and challenging them to become life long learners, in whatever subject that may be. I have never cared, or stressed the importance of test grades to my children. Not much of it matters in the end anyway. Probably better to learn a trade and not go to college anyway. Who can afford it? Then your saddled with college loans for the next 10-20 years.

Anonymous said...

I am a teacher and I agree vocational training should be part of CMS.. We need a vocational school. Teachers have talked about this issue for years. We have talked about over testing and teaching to the test. We do not have a voice. We can not make change. CMS is top down. NC is top down. If we want change, we need to vote. Not for one party or another, but for people who will work with patents, students and teachers to create great community schools.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps someone should ponder the idea of holding the CMS accountability office accountable for NOT communicating about senior scores or state testing!

Anonymous said...

My God, The state of North Carolina provides absolute proof that Southern states care very little about educating someone else's child. This is why the South continues and will continue to fall short in developing an educated and literate work force. People of the South should be ashamed at the people they elect to represent them!!!

Anonymous said...


School is definitely open tomorrow and no students will be turned away. However, some schools have more make-ups than others in the quest to test 95%. For those students who completed all of their required testing last week, coming to school will be a waste of time.

Anonymous said...

If your student is in high school s/he should stay home, unless they have a makeup exam.. Schools must have the 95% or else.... So says Raleigh and the Feds..

Anonymous said...

There are make-ups today because students were sick or absent for some other reason. These aren't re-tests, Einstein, they are tests for those who missed the test day. That kid in my class with cancer can't come to the school when everyone else is there-- too dangerous--and he wanted to come to the school to see his teacher. We'll be wearing masks, but he will be very happy to be out feeling a little normal.

Anonymous said...

After reading all of these comments, I now understand why private schools (and the large number of emerging charter schools) are so popular in Mecklenburg county.

Anonymous said...

Having left CMS and NC after last school year, I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to see teaching and learning that is free from the pressure of insane state tests. Teachers actually enjoy their jobs and kids actually learn. It's remarkable.

Never to return.

Anonymous said...

Who said retest.... I only saw make up..

Anonymous said...

From what I have seen, teachers all over NC are miserable. Top down CMS must be a hard place to teach