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Boston College Conference Oct 2002: "How to Keep High-stakes Testing from Making People Mentally Ill."



Fourth-grade & seventh-grade writing test results NOSEDIVE!!

"In 2002, 46.8 percent of fourth graders scored at grade level or above as compared to 68.8 percent in 2001 and 57.6 percent in 2000. A total of 62.9 percent of seventh graders scored at 2.5 or better. This compares to 73.3 percent in 2001 and 71.9 percent in 2000."

Questions for the DPI, the State Board of Education, Phil Kirk, Mike Ward, Governor Easley, and members of the General Assembly:

(1) What follow-up has there been from the audit panel report issued last December?

(2) Were any lessons really learned from last year's math test fiasco?

(3) How much longer will NC's children be guinea pigs in the DPI's ill-run testing lab?

And most importantly......

(4) Given last year's and this year's massive failures, how can North Carolina parents, teachers, administrators, and students have any faith in any of DPI's tests? It appears that the ONLY gauge of quality of the tests are "reasonable" pass/fail rates. In Lou Fabrizio's words of last spring, we can assume that the "right" numbers are 85% pass, 15% fail. How can we ensure that "no child is left behind" and that no child is unfairly categorized as being "behind" with such shoddy instruments? If the testocrat agenda is to rule the day, when, at the very least, will they use legitimate tests?

"The reasons for the decline - which could lead to the lowest passing rate for fourth-graders in five years - are unclear to state education officials. "The only thing we can come up with is that the kids didn't write as well this year," said Lou Fabrizio, testing director for the state Department of Public Instruction."

Gee, Lou, the "kids' " response is, "Lou & Phil didn't test as well this year. In fact, we think all of Lou & Phil's tests stink."

Test results delayed


North Carolina Legislators Find Themselves in the Worst Budget Crunch Since Depression

It is no secret to any North Carolinian that the state’s finances are in dire shape. While NCCDS won’t weigh in on the issue on generating more revenue, we do have one solid opinion on where money could be saved for more fruitful purposes – let the General Assembly sharpen their pencils and draw a line through 80% of the testing budget. What about the ABC bonus money? Use it to cover our rapidly increasing health care costs and keep our premiums where they were in 2002. Let’s eliminate the ill-conceived exit exam that appears to be going nowhere. Let’s follow Maryland’s lead and allow local districts to allow for tests to be used for purely diagnostic purposes.

For what other reason should the General Assembly cut back on the high-stakes testing budget?

The audit panel report, which was precipitated by last spring’s math test fiasco, remains little discussed, at least in public forums, by the State Board and DPI. The panel clearly concluded that the state is currently at significant risk of lawsuits due to the shabby methods of validating the tests. This means that the state must conduct more field tests if it wants to shield itself from successful lawsuits. Unfortunately, for the DPI, it is boxed in two ways: (1) It has been semi-forbidden by the Fairness in Testing Act to conduct the number of field tests necessary (based on the outcry of school systems who find their calendars already overwhelmed by field testing). (2) The DPI does not have the funds to conduct the tests even if they were legal. Our conclusion is that everyone’s best interest is served by dramatic curtailment of the testing regimen. Please call, email, and/or write your state representatives to make this case



NC News & Legislation


"Testing Taxes Teaching" Sensitive column from the N&O " the end of the day -- or, more precisely, the end of grade -- all that counts is the standard test. Sure, if we are teaching to the test, at least we're teaching to something. But when it comes to finding creative solutions to education in this state, it may not just be the students, but the teachers, whose voices are being silenced. 5/20

Pep rallies, the ultimate symbols of the intellectual void that is the high-stakes testing racket in NC, fill our elementary gyms as 600,000 students roll the dice on poorly validated tests. According to the administrators in this story, the kids have nothing to worry about. According to the Chairman of the State Board of Education, the administrators better worry.5/13

Over 5,000 teachers hired this year fall short of new federal guidelines and over 75% of NC's Schools would be labeled as "failing" under the new ESEA"In North Carolina, 502 schools made exemplary growth last year under the ABCs model -- the highest rating possible. But only half of these would have met the federal standards for adequate growth. The 768 schools that made expected growth under the ABCs fared even worse, with only 27 percent of them also reaching the federal standard.

"I can see it now," state board member Wayne McDevitt said. "Schools will be able to say they were good enough to be excellent, but not good enough to be adequate." Doesn't make sense to us either Wayne. 5/02

NCCDS Exclusive: Under Cover of Omnibus Bill, General Assembly Rolls Back Fairness in Testing Legislation!!

Greensboro Parent Group Continues to Push for Reduction in Testing 4/25

DPI Remains Unaccountable to the Citizens of North Carolina, Refuses to Release Tests. Citing lack of manpower and funds to create new test forms, DPI won't let the public review the tests for accuracy and fairness. How democratic is that? 4/13

National News & Legislation

ESEA Headlines

Conservative Hoover Institute warns about the pitfalls of comparing one year's scores to the next; identifies this process as key flaw in the new ESEA

"Consider the examples of North Carolina and Texas. Between 1994 and 1999, these states were the educational envy of the nation, raising proficiency rates in math and reading by 2 to 5 percentage points in the average year. However, the vast majority of schools in those states exhibited much less consistent progress: less than 2 percent of schools witnessed an increase in math and reading proficiency each and every year for those five years. Indeed, we estimate that between 98 and 100 percent of the elementary schools in North Carolina and Texas would have failed the House and Senate’s initial definitions of annual yearly progress at least once between 1994 and 1999." 5/03

10th Grade Student Engages in the Most Lucid Protest of NC DPI's Fascination with Field Tests that We Have Seen Thus Far

Student "Earns" Suspension for Mildly Protesting 10th Grade Writing Field Test.

From the Greensboro News & Record

"Here is the essay, provided by his mother, that Billy Taylor wrote for the state's field test of the new 10th-grade writing exam. Misspellings, grammatical errors and punctuation are unchanged.

Taylor said the topic required him to write about indifference as a social conflict. The N.C. Department of Public Instruction has not released the essay topic.:

"I believe that this test is extremely contradictory to the basis of which it was given.

According to my English teacher, this test was formulated as a means for the school board to determine how the literary skills of the 10th grade students in Guilford County compare to others like them. Now I was just curious as to how they plan to accurately obtain this information when the students recieve prompts on subjects such as indifference. I know for a fact that at least fifty percent of the students in this room do not have the slightest idea ofwhat indifference is, nor have they ever heard the word. My thoughts and statements are just opinions, I only wish to more thuroughly understand the situation. The only problem I have with all of this is that the students must conjure an essay, to be evaluated on literary use and content, which must be centralized on a controversial, social issue that may not accurately be applied to any student's life style. How do you expect us to respond to that?

Now I may be wrong, and I'm sure there are many students who would have no problem with the prompt presented to them, but the test can never acurately and systematicaly present each student an equal opportunity to display his/her literary education unless the prompts given to them are easily identifiable by every student who attempts the exam.

My teachers and parents have often praised my writting skills and I believe that I am a fairly decent writer. I am not a great writer and I do not claim to be. All that I wish to be understood is that it is wrong to present a student with a failing grade, when the ideals and basis of the subject to be written about has never been mentioned to them nor have they had time to expore or research the topic at hand. That would be like a student asking you to fully describe, in essay form, how the CPU uses it's central processor and RAM to perform the intricate tasks you command and what process is used to navigate these bits of sensitive information throughout the hard drive. Or if you do not prefer that prompt, how about asking you to explain in what way the theory of relativity relates to the creation of energy by accelerating the mass of some matter to the velocity of light times itself. How many 10th grade students do you know that could explain that to you?

In closing, I realize that by writing this essay you will probably have no alternative but to fail me, but if my issue is heard and something is done about it, then it was absolutely worth the time it took to write it.

NCCDS congratulates Billy Taylor for his courage, his mature and creative protest, and his lucid argument. A tip of the hat as well to the DPI for their ironic choice of a prompt.

Fairness in Testing Act Passes!  (Highlights)

Fairness in Testing Act (full text) 10/2


NC Newspaper Education Sections
Asheville Citizen-Times
Greensboro News & Record
Charlotte Observer

Links to All NC Newspapers

New DPI Reports

Audit Panel Report on NC's ABCs (precipitated by the math test fiasco last spring)


Commentary from Edweek on Audit Panel Report 12/12

Report on Raising Achievement and Closing Gaps between White Students & Minorities

NC Justice Center's Report on Same Topic as Above. Compare the recommendations


Teaching Tough Issues in the Classroom. Lessons that Count A great article from the Christian Science Monitor 3/6

"How to Improve High-Stakes Test Scores Without Really Improving"
Cynical, satirical, and right on the money 4/14

How High-Stakes Testing Makes Students Physically Sick

High-Stakes Testing for Dentists??!!A dead-on satire of the absurdity of high-stakes testing

Powerpoint Presentation from February 2002 Social Studies Conference (email us and we will provide instructions on using this presentation for your local group or school board)

USA TODAY: Hidden costs of high-stakes exit exams = more dropouts. Article includes excellent alternative to high-stakes exit exams 11/29

Cooking the books: A point-by-point account of how the numbers went up so dramatically this year in Massachusetts. See if this sounds familiar to you NC educators. 12/07

Texas High-School Graduates Speak Out on High-Stakes Tests!

In a just-released study conducted by Texas A&M University in which over 400 college freshmen were surveyed as to what their TAAS (Texas Assessment of Academic Skills) experience was like in high school English classes, 63% reported that the experience was "completely negative", while another 15% said the experience was "largely negative." What is most compelling are the 400 anecdotes posted by the researchers. The North Carolina business community, state legislators, state board of education members, and our friends at the Department of Public Instruction would be doing all of us a favor by spending an afternoon reading their reflective comments, keeping in mind that these are from the students who succeeded. One wonders what the souls who fell through the cracks think about the impact of high-stakes tests on their educational experience. 2/1


A Brillant, Eloquent Proposal for an Alternative to the SAT and (potentially) for high-stakes exit exams. "Why not have high school teachers assess what goes on in their classrooms using standards developed jointly with university faculty?....Step four is to educate local communities about the standards so that they can hold their schools accountable. Parents and students must be able to judge if classes are geared to the UC standards." Now, THIS is a democratic and sensible proposal. A MUST READ! 5/20

WHOOPS!! Cobb County Georgia officials lose high-stakes exit exams, forcing students to retake them. "Students who fail the exams can take them again as soon as this summer. But that's little consolation to seniors such as Lillia Sanders of McEachern. Given just a day's notice to prepare for the retest, Sanders is sure she failed the science portion of the exam she took Friday. And she's just as sure she passed it in March. She received tutoring before that exam, and prepared for a month in advance." How valuable is the information Miss Sanders learned after a month of cramming that she cannot replicate now? More importantly, of what value is an education that is founded upon cramming unconnected trivia as opposed to teaching critical thinking skills which can't be assessed on a multiple-choice test? 5/20

Deck Chairs to be Rearranged on Titantic. The College Board, yielding to University of California threats to drop the SAT as part of its admissions process, announces massive changes in venerable test to make it more "relevant." Given that the SAT is such a lousy predictor of college success, the whole thing should be merely chucked. 5/17

Harbinger of what may happen in NC as Minnesota budget crisis forces state to delay scoring high-stakes tests. 5/17

Vermont Governor Howard Dean calls Bush's accountability scheme "a terrible mistake" and an "extraordinary expense and burden." 5/17

Georgia principal kills herself Mother suspects reason was pressure from high-stakes testing! "Early the next morning, before her students were to take yet another important test, Robinson locked her office door and shot herself in the head." From CNN: "Robinson, a married mother of two, killed herself hours after attending a meeting where Gwinnett County school officials discussed school performance, which is based almost entirely on standardized test scores. The next morning, students were to be tested again. Each school is expected to show 5 percent improvement over the previous year. Last year, Simonton, which has a substantial new immigrant population, improved by 4.9 percent. Two weeks earlier, Simonton had been one of four Gwinnett schools included on a list of 436 Georgia schools that were failing new standards under President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" education plan. Under that program, if Simonton does not improve enough, students could transfer to other public schools and Simonton would have to pay the busing costs. 5/8

John Dewey is alive and well and living in Manhattan: Great argument for using portfolios as opposed to high-stakes tests for assessment. "Although Beacon {High School}teaches to state standards, the school’s mission statement declares that “students are more likely to discover meaning in a curriculum that cuts across traditional subject borders. Interdisciplinary projects provide a chance to discover unifying themes and to make connections which enrich the student’s world.” The Beacon staff also believes that expectations and assessments “should be individualized to reflect student preference and ability.” The goal is to develop the creativity, strength, and integrity of each child—a goal worthy of every school." A worthy goal indeed! 5/1

One of the key organizations that got the high-stakes testing ball rolling, finds that most of the tests are lousy. "Achieve has found that most tests are poorly matched to state standards. As a result, states are requiring one set of skills while creating incentives to teach a different set. Of all the tests it studied, Achieve found that only the Massachusetts 10th grade tests were relatively well-aligned with the state's standards. (Achieve's evaluations can be seen at" 5/02 (NY Times, requires registration)

California Administrators Trample Teacher & Student First Amendment Rights; Forbid them from discussing legitimate means to become exempt from taking state tests. The student who disseminated the following flyer was suspended: "If the school district forced you to take a time-consuming multiple choice test without your consent, a test that contains serious flaws but is still used to determine your high school's `achievement' and the `achievement' of individual students, would you:

``A. Obey.

``B. Submit.

``C. Comply.

``D. Conform.

``E. Fight Back.''

Of course, NCCDS chose option E. 5/01

Backlash in California "From statewide tests to the adoption of highly scripted curriculums, recent reforms have dramatically reshaped the world of education. But too often, Hutchinson and colleagues say, these changes have been implemented with little or no input from teachers. The result is the beginning of a teacher backlash, centered on the question of who should choose the materials and methods to educate America's children. 5/02

The Human Face of the High-Stakes Testing Story Schools like the Boston Arts Academy are desperately trying to keep the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System from destroying their very fabric, headmaster Linda Nathan reports.

The Death of Science? What We Risk in Our Rush Toward Standardized Testing and the Three R's Olaf Jorgenson and Rick Vanosdall raise an important question: Will standardized testing snuff out the promise of inquiry-based methods for American science education? 5/02

Vermont Strongly Considering Refusal to Take Federal Dollars in Order to Escape Bush's Testing Scheme 4/25

"Let's Follow the Mother Country!" Eight out of Ten British Teachers Want High-Stakes Tests to be Scrapped For Young Children 4/25

Test-prep Companies are the hot new growth stock. "The market for K-12 test-prep services for state exams, which was almost "insignificant three years ago, is now a booming $50 million arena...." Sell your energy derivative and buy Sylvan folks 2/14

New book on teaching argues that "teachers are outstanding not because of their intellect but because of their emotional commitment to students. They live John Dewey's philosophy that ''education is not preparation for life, but life itself,'' and they relate to their students as real people. Against all odds, these great teachers keep alive the optimism of their first days on the job. Too often, though, these qualities fade. To make them last, Dr. Intrator says, we must offer them the same gift they offer their students: respect. "That means more emphasis on teacher-driven lessons and less on standardized curriculum and testing." 4/15 (requires registration

"Magic TAAS Dust", beef jerky, self-hugs - just a smattering of techniques used in Dallas to get students to do well on their TAAS tests. Truth is definitely stranger than fiction "It all comes down to those kiddos," said Dr. Dobbs, a former principal who has slept on a school roof and kissed a pig to motivate students. It seems we've gone from no child left behind to ALL common sense left behind. 4/15 (requires registration - you HAVE to read this one)

An exceptionally balanced look at where the "test mess" is at the moment from the New York Times (requires registration) 4/7

Fifth Maryland County Decides to opt out of the state's flawed high-stakes test. 4/4

Missouri likely to cut its high-stakes testing program in half. As states across the country confront mounting budget deficits, they are being forced to look at the real payoff from the testing mania generated in the 1990s. And more and more of them are making the decision to cut back on testing. 3/19

Backlash in Massachusetts as Boston's Mayor and other previously supportive officials cry foul on Massachusetts' State Board's proposed new policy to have MCAS scores placed on student transcripts. Why would the State feel compelled to put a "scarlet letter" of failure on a student's transcript who eventually passed the exam? 3/12

Phi Delta Kappa gives Georgia's Quality Core Curriculum a Big THUMBS DOWN. Cites superficial treatment, emphasis on memorization of too many facts, and not enough time spent on developing skills. Hmmm.....sound like any other state's curriculum? 3/11

HUGE Victory in Maryland!! "To subdue mounting criticism of Maryland's annual exams, state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick will announce today that local school districts will be allowed to opt out of this spring's eighth-grade tests." It is possible to roll back insanity. 3/6 (related article)

SATs for Third Graders? Yep. Unfortunately some parents have taken vicarious living a bit too far. WARNING: This article will make you cringe! 3/6

Social Studies educators express concern over consequences of federally-renewed emphasis on testing only math & reading. The testocrats speak out of both sides of their mouth on this issue. They maintain that teachers only will do their job if they are "motivated" by the knowledge that Big Brother is both looking over their shoulder and testing their students to make sure they have done their job. Then, in the same breath with a straight face, they announce that elementary teachers will continue to teach social studies even though it is not part of a school measurement formula because teachers "realize the value of social studies." Where do these people come from? 2/25

Momentum builds for repeal of high-stakes tests in Maryland as second county formally requests state to stop program This should be our model in North Carolina. Let's repeal high-stakes tests by lobbying local school boards to put pressure on the Dept. of Public Instruction and State Board of Education. 2/14

SUCCESS STORY!! The clouds lift in New Jersey as Commissioner of Schools rolls back several tests and places more emphasis on diagnostic use of tests rather than high-stakes accountability. New governor of New Jersey ran on platform of eliminating negative consequences of high-stakes tests. NC legislators, are you listening? (NY Times; requires registration) 2/8


Who is NCCDS?
What does "high stakes testing" mean?
What are the problems with high stakes testing?
What do teachers & administrators think about the ABCs?
Why shouldn't standardized tests be used to make decisions about individual students?
What rights do parents have concerning the testing of their child?
How do we effectively fight high-stakes testing? (a how-to guide from Alfie Kohn

ASCD Advocacy Kit - a terrific tool!


Alternatives to High-Stakes Testing

What alternatives are there to high-stakes testing?

Alternative Assessment Model from Fairtest


From the Rural School & Community Trust

Alternative Assessment Ideas; worth every minute to read.

What standards should mean in the context of the rural school.

NC General Assembly & NC Department of Public Instruction Hall of Shame
Phil Kirk: The Moonlighting Chairman of the State Board of Education

The Incredible Shifting Ethics of the NC DPI
Best Practices as listed by the DPI (That high-stakes testing discourages or prevents!)
Take Your Own High-Stakes Test
Proposed High-Stakes Testing for Kindergarten & First Grade Students
DPI Criminalizes a Student's Decision to Not Take a High-Stakes Test! (when did they receive legislative authority?)
More bile from Chairman Kirk

Stories by Our Members
"Insanity of the Testing Mania"
Why Retention Is NOT the Answer
A Synopsis of the NC School Psychologists Association Report on NC's testing program (MUST READING!)

A NC Elementary Guidance Counselor Speaks Out on the Negative Impacts of High-Stakes Testing

NCCDS Summary of Audit Panel Report on Math Test Fiasco!

Our response to the recent Public Agenda Poll and IBM CEO Lou Gerstner's comments on the poll.

Links to like-minded groups around the country
Informative Links

Links to the North Carolina Legislature

Joining our email listserve

Media Contact Info
NC Justice and Community Development
Article Archives (oldies but goodies)


NCCDS is an organization dedicated to fighting the “one size fits all” view of public schools. We advocate for community involvement in schools and an end to reliance on standardized testing as the method of evaluating students. We believe that all North Carolinians should have a voice in the decisions being made about high-stakes tests and children's futures in our state.

Contact Us


"The heart of our modern idolatry is quantification -- the world reduced to quantities and the relationships between them, the belief that the quantitative description of things is paramount and even complete in itself. Physical science persuades us to disregard, devalue, and even deny what we cannot measure, to act as though such things as love, life, optimism, wonder, and beauty do not matter much in an objective description of reality. I do not dispute that the wealth of knowledge science gives us adds to our wonder and experience. I may even appreciate rubies all the more by knowing something of their chemistry and geology. But I rebel at the dominance of quantitative description in our scientized lives which sustains the idol of objectivity and keeps us from an intimate participation in our world."
--Roger Jones, Physics As Metaphor


Much of our information comes from the document A Closer Look: A Parent's Guide To Standardized Testing in NC Schools

This web site contains information on testing in North Carolina as well as links to other groups resisting high stakes tests in their areas. If you have suggestions for web sites to include in our links section, information we might add or other ideas, please let us know .

Follow high-stakes testing and other national education issues! Click to subscribe to the following scholarly sites!

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