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Despite COVID-19 cases at record high, N.C. students still required to take in-person exams
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Despite COVID-19 cases at record high, N.C. students still required to take in-person exams

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RALEIGH — Students will show up at North Carolina high schools next week to take state-mandated standardized tests at a time when COVID-19 cases are soaring.

On Thursday, the State Board of Education approved a request asking the U.S. Department of Education to not hold schools and school districts accountable for this year's state exams. But state education leaders say they still want to give the tests because the results will help "document the losses that we believe the pandemic has inflicted on our students."

"That information will provide the foundation for future remedial actions, including our efforts to secure the additional resources necessary to support the educational losses our children have suffered," State Superintendent Catherine Truitt and state board chairman Eric Davis said in a joint statement last month.

Many North Carolina high schools will give state end-of-course exams and state career and technical education post assessment exams next week before classes end for the fall semester.

The state is requiring the exams to be taken in person, even if a student requested to take online classes due to the pandemic.

Groups such as N.C. Families for School Testing Reform say it's risking the lives of students and school employees to require in-person exams right now.

The testing comes at a time when North Carolina on Thursday recorded more than 10,000 new COVID-19 cases in a single day for the first time.

Schools make test accommodations

The state is allowing students to take the exams as late as June.

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The exams are typically worth 20% of a student's final grade in those classes, but the state is giving flexibility in the grading scale that schools use. For instance, Durham students won't get less than a 90 on the exams.

The Wake County school system says a 60 is the lowest score a student can get on the state exams. North Carolina's largest school district also says the exams will only be counted if they raise a student's final grade.

Students can also request a medical exemption.

How many students take the exam next week is unclear. A handful of Wake County high schools that offered the exams in December saw 85-90% of students attend, according to district officials.

Students will get a grade of incomplete until they either take the exam or get a medical exemption.

Tests still required

Both the state and federal governments require annual standardized tests to assess school and student performance and to decide on things such as teacher and principal bonuses. The exams were waived last school year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But state education officials say it wouldn't be right to hold schools accountable this year for the results. The waiver request cites multiple concerns, including:

• It's not possible to assure all students had adequate opportunity to learn the entire content in a year where in-person learning was restricted.

• The tests could be the first time some students show up on campus in months. Some school districts, including Wake County, Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Durham, haven't had in-person instruction for high school students since mid-March.

• Some students might not be able to take in-person tests due to their own or a family members' compromising health conditions.

If the federal government still holds schools accountable, the state wants to waive the requirement that at least 95% of students must take an exam.

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