How Many Tests Do North Carolina Students Have to Take?
February 26, 2013

While it has been many years since I was in high school, there is a tradition that has continued since I was a student at Staunton River High – tests are given at the end of each course.  We had exam schedules so that we could take a certain number of tests each day.  I frequently wished that I would not have two hard exams on the same day, but I wasn't always that lucky.

The number of end-of-year exams given at Staunton River High School was determined by the number of courses offered in a given year. For a school the size of mine, that equated to about 50 or 60 exams, of which I took about six each year.

So what has changed since then and why are there so many different numbers floating around about how many tests high school students have to take? What is the real story?

Here are the "big" state-required accountability tests that students have to take:

  • End-of-grade tests in grades 3-8 in reading and math

  • Science tests in grades 5 and 8

  • End-of-course tests in Biology, Algebra I and English II

  • ACT college admissions test for all high school juniors

  • WorkKeys for all students who take four or more courses in a Career and Technical Education cluster

Students enrolled in kindergarten through 2nd grade are given reading assessments every nine weeks. Each assessment takes less than 10 minutes and involves a student reading directly to a teacher. Students may not even realize they are being assessed.

Students in grades 3 through 8 in North Carolina's public schools spend approximately 10 hours out of 1,025 instructional hours per year taking state end-of-grade tests.

At the high school level, students take a final exam for each course they are taking. So, if a student takes eight courses a year, they would take eight final exams.

Among these end-of-course tests, there are three required assessments developed at the state level: Biology, Algebra I (if the student did not take Algebra I in middle school), and English II. These end-of-course tests are final exams in the course. Typically, students take these courses at the 9th and 10th grade.  The proficiency rates on these tests are used as a part of the General Assembly's A-F Accountability System. Also, the ACT is given to all juniors to help us see how many students are prepared for college or community college work. Students can use their scores on admissions applications, by the way, at no charge to them.

This year, for the first time, North Carolina has developed measures of student learning (MSLs) also called common exams. Local school districts can use these exams, developed by more than 800 classroom teachers in our state, to serve as a final exam and also to provide key information about the amount of academic growth that their students have made over the course of the year or throughout the course. This is the first time that North Carolina has provided common exams in the subjects that are not a part of the formal accountability model – the material used in the General Assembly's required A-F accountability model that will roll out for the first time in the fall.

The common exams, or measures of student learning, can serve a dual purpose. They can be used as a final exam for the student and they also will be used as part of the data needed to evaluate teacher effectiveness. This component of North Carolina's educator evaluation model is new, and involves using three years' worth of student performance information to gauge teacher effectiveness over time.

About 40 school districts were ready and chose to implement these common exams at the end of the first semester this year.  We have learned from their experiences and have already made some adjustments for spring based on teacher input. Others districts will start administering these tests during exam periods primarily at the end of this school year.  Our common exams library currently has about 50 exams available for schools to access and does not include arts, healthful living, and world languages.

So how many exams will a high school student have to take?  It depends on how many courses a student takes in a year.  That tradition has not changed since I was in high school.  What has changed is that today, teachers have access to standard, quality exams that they do not have to develop on their own.

So how many exams will a high school administer at the end of the year?  It depends on the number of course offerings at a high school.  And that has not changed since I was in high school.




June St. Clair Atkinson
State Superintendent