State to waive school testing accountability

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The N.C. State Board of Education on Monday requested a waiver of testing accountability for public schools affected by the closures due to the COVID-19 virus.

Meeting in Raleigh, the board’s vote was unanimous.

The specific areas that the waiver addresses include assessments that are part of the North Carolina School Report Cards issued to schools and districts educating the state’s 1.6 million public school students.

There are also a series of items being waived through this process. Academic indicators being waived include assessment results, math course rigor, growth, the English language proficiency assessment results, the school quality of student success indicator results, the progress toward meeting long-term goals and measures of interim progress, the number and percentage of students with the most significant cognitive disability taking an alternative assessment and information showing how students in the local education agency and each school respectively achieved academic assessments compared to students at other school districts across the state.

“The state board’s decision to ask for a waiver was suggested by the N.C. Superintendents Association,” said Wilson County Schools Superintendent Lane Mills. “I think this recommendation would allow our teachers to continue to focus on the needs of their students and families.”

Mills said “these measures and their outcomes are not the priority for our educators or students in this unprecedented situation, nor should they be.”

“It is important to note, however, that in submitting this waiver, the state is also affirming that is will fulfill two assurances,” said Tammy Howard, director of accountability at the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. “The first is that any school that is already identified as a targeted support improvement school or comprehensive support improvement school will maintain that designation going forward into the 2020-21 school year and will continue to receive support and intervention assistance.”

“The second one is that the state education agency will provide the public and all LEAs in the state the notice and the opportunity to comment on the request on the waiver,” Howard said. “Typically this public comment precedes any waiver, but given the circumstances that we have before us, the U.S. Department of Education is allowing the waiver to proceed immediately and occur concurrently with the comment period from the public and the comment period will not uphold the approval of the waiver. It is actually anticipated by the U.S. Department of Education that if the state uses the U.S. Department of Education-provided waiver, then approval will be granted within one business day, however, we do have to give assurance that we will give public comment on the waiver.”

State school board Chairman Eric Davis said the COVID-19 pandemic is saddling educators with unprecedented challenges.

Davis said he appreciated “the dedicated work of teachers, administrators and all personnel who have stepped up as first responders on the front line” in assuring that students are fed and engaged academically and with social and emotional supports since March 16, when students across the state were asked to stay at home for two weeks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. That has now been extended to at least May 15.

Davis said several school districts and charter schools have launched virtual and remote learning opportunities.

“Teachers have ensured that students’ social and emotional learning needs are met by sending daily video messages, writing letters, phone calls and other creative measures to stay connected with students and to share with them lessons,” he said.

“Meal deliveries for our students have grown from 200,000 to over 571,000 per day with more than 1.6 million meals delivered since the governor’s order,” Davis added.

Wilson County Schools handed out about 6,700 breakfasts and 6,700 lunches last week at 25 meal sites across Wilson County.

“Efforts to raise students’ connectivity continue to increase, driven by the ingenuity and persistence of education leaders, the private sector and the generosity of many donors,” Davis said.

Davis said the N.C. Department of Public Instruction has launched a website to deliver timely, relevant guidance, resources and information to the state’s districts and schools. Visit https://sites.google.com/dpi.nc.gov/covid-19/home/.

“This time, while difficult, must be used as an opportunity to shift our current vision of education,” Davis said. “As we continue to serve our students, we must progressively work to guarantee that the students in our state have equitable experiences, that the needs of the whole child are met and outline our outlined guiding principles in the approved strategic plan and to uphold our constitutional promise to a sound basic education.”