NEWS RELEASES 2013-14 :: OCTOBER 09, 2013


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Teachers need better tools to observe student strengths and support learning right from the start of kindergarten. This was one of a number of goals presented in the final report from the K-3 North Carolina Assessment Think Tank which today presented its recommendations to State Superintendent June Atkinson at Duke University's Center for Child and Family Policy.

The Think Tank, a group of 22 teachers and other education experts, has been working since February to consider the best plan for assessing the educational needs of students in grades K-3. The group was convened by Atkinson and co-chaired by John Pruette, director of the NC Department of Public Instruction's Office of Early Learning, and Kenneth Dodge, director of the Center for Child and Family Policy and Duke University's William McDougall Professor of Public Policy.

The task force's report includes nine recommendations in support of 17 learning goals identified as critical for students in the earliest grades.

In presenting the think tank's report, Dodge said, "The members of the Think Tank did an incredible job of synthesizing knowledge in the field very quickly and in crafting this vision. This proposal represents the cutting edge of education research and practice. I applaud Superintendent June Atkinson for her leadership in guiding the state of North Carolina toward assessment and instructional tools that will maximize students' learning. Her vision is inspiring."

State Superintendent June Atkinson thanked the Think Tank members for their work at the event. "Traditional testing is not appropriate for our youngest students," Atkinson said, "At the same time, we want teachers to gather key information about how their youngest students are learning so that they can meet students' needs. This process will help us provide teachers with the tools they need to accomplish this goal."

Currently, formal statewide assessment of students begins in third grade, but by that point many learning problems may have already caused difficulties for some children. That is why the Think Tank was asked to consider ways to help teachers measure student performance earlier and in ways that are appropriate for young students.

The Think Tank's recommendations are focused on steps to establish a classroom formative assessment process that is appropriate for young students and to provide professional development to help educators use this process effectively in their classrooms. Formative assessment is evaluation that happens within the day-to-day activities of the classroom as teachers and students use the tools to support instruction and learning. Formative assessment is not a test given at the end of the year for school accountability purposes.

The process highlighted in the Think Tank's recommendations depends on a design team to create the assessment tools, the use of a pilot process in representative schools, the inclusion of parents and educators in the process, incorporation of appropriate technology, and support for teachers including professional development, demonstration, practice and coaching.

"Our goal is to leverage the best of what teachers already do and use that along with other tools to help teachers assess young learners in a consistent way," said John Pruette. "The quality of teacher/student interaction is central to the formative assessment process. By strengthening that interaction, instruction will be supported and maximized, leading to greater outcomes for students."

The timeline would have initial kindergarten assessment pilots beginning by fall of 2014 in approximately half of the school districts in North Carolina. Full implementation will begin in the 2015-16 school year.

Funding for the work of the Think Tank was provided by The Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University. In addition to federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grant funds, the North Carolina General Assembly also appropriated $18 million for the development of kindergarten and early grades formative assessments.

The Think Tank's full report, Assessment for Learning and Development in K-3, and an Executive Summary, is available online here (pdf, 8.3mb).

About the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction:
The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provides leadership to 115 local public school districts and 160 charter schools serving over 1.5 million students in kindergarten through high school graduation. The agency is responsible for all aspects of the state's public school system and works under the direction of the North Carolina State Board of Education.

For more information:
NCDPI Communication and Information Division, 919.807.3450.