Students work on assignments at the Franklin School of Innovation in Asheville in 2016. Colby Rabon / Carolina Public Press

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Hundreds of North Carolina high school students are expected to cap off their summer school classes next week with an end-of-course exam.

Those exams, mandated by state and federal law, are taken in-person and account for at least 20% of the student’s course grade.

By December or January, end-of-course, or EOC, test-takers typically balloon to around 175,000. However, the pandemic caused by the new coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, means testing this year will be anything but typical.

Though federal and state officials waived requirements for spring tests due to the pandemic, those waivers ended July 7. That means it’s back to business as usual, as far as tests are concerned.

About half of districts statewide have opted for online instruction, at least to start the school year. As teachers and parents express their concern for in-person instruction, that worry extends to mandatory testing.

“Currently, we do not have a waiver from testing,” said Tammy Howard, director of accountability services for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

However, the state Board of Education meets Wednesday to consider a possible change. The options include asking the General Assembly to stretch the time frame by which tests can be administered to students, according to a presentation by Howard that the state board will see this week.

The General Assembly returns to Raleigh in September.

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In addition, state board materials recommend that districts with remote instruction give the tests when students return to in-person instruction. Districts may also arrange for tests in venues that allow districts to follow state Department of Health and Human Services guidelines for safety.

Those guidelines include keeping students 6 feet apart and wearing masks or cloth face coverings.

Students in North Carolina schools likely take dozens of tests throughout their 12 years. Districts must test third-graders within 20 days of the start of the school year.

And students must take the end-of-course exams, which last more than two hours, in the last five to 10 days of the semester. Then there are end-of-grade exams, which also must be taken within a limited period of time.

Nearly two-thirds of the 1.5 million students statewide are starting their year online only, according to information compiled by the state Board of Education. There are more than a dozen other tests for students across all grades that assess reading level, mathematics ability, science knowledge, and those for English language learners.

For now, some districts are in a holding pattern while the state board figures out what to do.

Renee McCoy, a spokeswoman for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, said, “Right now, we’re awaiting guidance on the administration of end-of-course, end-of-grade and other state-required assessments.”

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Kate Martin

Kate Martin is lead investigative reporter for Carolina Public Press. Email her at kmartin@carolinapublicpress.org.

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