State officials and testing experts have been debating the merits of promotion-and-retention policies based on tests for years. This week, North Carolina's state board of education rendered its own verdict on one version of those policies, by voting to end state-required performance "gateways" that schools could use to determine students' promotion by grade and their graduation from high school.
After reviewing data, state officials found that the gateway tests had not made a significant difference in the promotion or retention of students. One reason is that local principals in North Carolina, by law, have the right to make their own decisions about which students move up or are held back. Only about 5 percent of the state's 1.4 million public school students were held back in 2008, according to numbers from the Department of Public Instruction, the Associated Press reported.
Overall, the gateway policy "has not had the intended effect," state superintendent June Atkinson said in a statement outlining the changes.
End-of-grade reading and math tests in grades 3, 5, and 8, and high school end-of-course exams will still be reported and monitored, state officials explained in that statement. And school boards will still have the right to use those tests for promotion and retention, though they won't have to, Atkinson told me in an interview.
The decision about whether "a student passes a grade or course should not be based on just one measure," she told me. North Carolina is developing a new accountability system, which will place a greater emphasis on diagnostic tests that give teachers early feedback on student progress, she noted.