To ensure all students receive a “sound, basic education” as stipulated by the North Carolina Supreme Court, the North Carolina General Assembly should reinstate statewide End of Course exams in Algebra 2, Physics, Civics and Economics, and U.S. History.
In March of 2011, the North Carolina General Assembly introduced House Bill (HB) 48 to eliminate statewide standardized tests for Algebra 2, Physics, Civics and Economics, and U.S. History, despite resistance and lobbying from teachers across the state. Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning objected to the bill on the grounds that it contradicted the 1994 Leandro vs. State decision that holds that North Carolina is responsible for providing all its students with “a sound, basic education.” Memorandums attached to the Leandro decision specify that “a child performing at grade level or above proficiency on the State’s ABC test, End of Grade (EOG) or End of Course (EOC) tests is obtaining a sound and basic education, and a child who is not showing proficiency on the ABC tests is not receiving a sound, basic education in that subject matter.” While in 2010 a bill similar to HB 48 was voted down because it conflicted with the Leandro decision, the new, Republican-majority Assembly passed HB 48 on March 21, 2011 after relatively little discussion about its consequences.
North Carolina was one of the first states to adopt statewide standardized testing with the Elementary and Secondary Reform Act of 1994, which authorized the state Department of Education to develop end-of-course exams for 10 subjects structured according to the universal Curriculum Based Exit Exams found abroad. Following the implementation of these exams, North Carolina saw larger improvements in SAT scores than any other state. The new law eliminating the exams came in the midst of a process to overhaul North Carolina’s curriculum to follow the guidelines of the Blue Ribbon standards and Common Core Standards. To help determine student achievement, career readiness, and university and community college readiness, the state Department of Public Instruction was writing new exams to reflect these new standards. With the passing of HB 48, the opportunity to administer such exams is limited.
Supporters of HB 48 say the eliminated tests served only to promote teaching to the test, therefore limiting the curriculum.13 Dr. Bill McDiarmid, Dean of the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Education, predicts that without the End of Course exams, high schools will only focus on subjects the No Child Left Behind Act requires they test (Algebra 1, English 1, and Biology), and instruction in Algebra 2, Civics, Physics, and U.S. History will fall to the wayside when there is no longer an incentive to teach it well. Reinstating the End of Course exams will ensure the state is doing its best to fulfill its duty to offer every student a “sound, basic education” by providing data concerning student achievement in a variety of subject areas deemed critical to future success. This data helps school systems, high schools, and teachers target problem areas in instruction, curriculum, and achievement, thereby improving student success and upholding their obligation as defined by the Leandro decision.
The North Carolina General Assembly should assert their commitment to the Leandro decision by passing a bill that reinstates the End of Course exams. The Department of Public Instruction should ensure these exams are worthwhile, by writing quality exams whose results are helpful indicators of student achievement to students, teachers, and the state Department of Instruction.