Regardless of your opinion of standardized tests, they are a required part of the school year for most students.
“High-quality, annual statewide assessments are required by law,” said letters from the U.S. Department of Education to at least thirteen states at the end of last year. The states were not meeting student participation numbers in standardized testing.
The letters warned states could lose federal funds if participation rates do not increase.
North Carolina was one of those states. The letter says in 2014-2015, “North Carolina missed participation rate targets for English learners and students with disabilities.”
It highlighted potential loss of funds for a “wide range” of federal programs that rely on statewide assessment results. Those include Title I, Part A funds (low-income focus), School Improvement Grants, programs for rural schools and migrant education, and programs focused on professional development for teachers.
The N.C. Department of Public Instruction tells FOX8 the missed targets in NC were:
ACT: English language learners (93%) and students with disabilities(94%)
ACT WorkKeys: English language learners (92%)
Grade 10 Mathematics: English language learners (93%).
The state has been addressing those concerns with training such as webinars, one of which highlights Randolph County Schools as doing a good job with high participation. That district is maximizing the roles of counselors, social workers and school resource officers to make sure students show up on test days.
“We have not received a letter about participation previously, though the U.S. Department of Education does consistently convey the expectation for meeting participation,” said Vanesas Jeter with the NC Department of Public Instruction.
Individual schools are flagged if they are not meeting participation numbers.
2014-2015 Consistently Low Participating Schools (did not meet 95% for 2 years)
Alamance - 2 (Eastern Alamance High, Western Alamance High)
Caswell Co - 1 (Bartlett Yancey High)
Lexington City- 1 (Lexington Senior High)
Forsyth Co - 8 (Carver High, Glenn High, Main St. Academy, Kingswood, North Forsyth High, Parkland High, Reynolds High, Walkertown High)
Guilford Co - 7 (Eastern Guilford High, Grimsley High, Otis Hairston Middle, Northwest Guilford High, Page High, Smith High, Western Guilford High)
Asheboro- 1 (Asheboro High)
Rockingham - 1 (Reidsville High)
Stokes - 1 (West Stokes High)
2014-2015 "Focus Schools" (did not meet 95% for 3 years)
Alamance- 2 (Eastern Alamance High, Hugh Cummings High)
Caswell - 1 (Bartlett Yancey High)
Davidson- 1 (Central Davidson High)
Lexington City- 1 (Lexington Senior High)
Forsyth - 3 (Main St. Academy, Parkland High, Reynolds High)
Guilford -6 (Dudley High, Eastern Guilford High, Northeast Guilford High, Smith High, Southeast Guilford High, Southern Guilford High)
Rockingham - 1 (Rockingham Co. High)
Rowan/Salisbury – 2 (North Rowan High, South Rowan High)
Surry Co - 2 (East Surry High, North Surry High)
Guilford County Schools Executive Director of Accountability and Research Dr. Judy Penny said the numbers are nothing to panic about.
She feels overall the district is doing well and has some areas to improve in. All elementary schools and all but two middle schools met participation rates in GCS.
The problem, she said, tends to be in high school.
There are many factors to consider. “If you're an eleventh grade student and have no plans to go to college, you may opt to just not come and sit through four hours of testing,” she explained.
Students may have dropped out but still be on the rolls. A student could be sick and not well enough in time to come in for the narrow window of makeup testing.
In much smaller schools or subgroups, even a couple of missing students dramatically hurt participation numbers. “We had one example where 22 students were counted in the group and two missed the test, which meant the school missed that target.”
Nevertheless, participation rates are a constant discussion in accountability meetings statewide, Dr. Penny pointed out.
GCS requires schools not hitting targets to come up with a plan for the next school year. “We follow up with each school and they come up with a plan for what they're going to do this year to make sure they test all the students they're supposed to test.”
Some involved counselors and create teams to help with attendance. Letters go home to parents reminding them they can’t opt out of testing.
Dr. Penny added, “While some parents don't like standardized testing, the testing does provide us with some information at the district level and at the school level to plan instruction for students.”