The Daily Journal: PACT moves one step closer to extinction
New end-of-the-year accountability tests would be administered
COLUMBIA — The Performance Achievement Challenge Test (PACT) was born under the Education Accountability Act (EAA) of 1998. But its lifespan may soon be coming to an end, thanks to legislation to be introduced today in the State House of Representatives.
Rep. Bill Sandifer, of Seneca, and Rep. Bill Whitmire, of Walhalla, are among more than 70 Republicans and Democrats co-sponsoring legislation marking the first significant change since the EAA was approved by the General Assembly a decade ago. Current state law mandates annual PACT testing for 380,000 students in grades 3-8 and the publishing of annual school report cards.
“What we have recognized is that educators have given us feedback for some time on the needs they have and, thus, we all have — not only with PACT testing, but the whole area of testing we do,” Sandifer said. “So, we’re trying to modernize the initial concept we passed in 1998 with the EAA.”
WILL STILL TEST
Sandifer adds that the move to end PACT testing comes with a caveat.
“We will not move backward from our original intent in 1998,” he said. “We want to use the more modern techniques, the opportunity to do more of these things electronically, to use data in a more timely manner for the benefit of educators and, most importantly, for students.
“I think that’s the thing that often gets lost — that all of those things were put in place and are being put in place to benefit the young people who are being educated in South Carolina.”
State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex, whose call for the end of PACT began when his administration took office a year ago, emphasized the bill would improve the EAA rather than replace it.
“It will give classroom teachers more detailed information on how individual kids are doing,” Rex said in a prepared statement. “It will get that information back to teachers faster and reduce the amount of classroom time devoted to end-of-the-year accountability tests. It will do all of that while maintaining South Carolina’s nationally recognized high standards for teaching and learning.”
Although uncertain of a specific time frame, Sandifer is confident the legislation could be voted on and passed by the House “without a great deal of difficulty.” From there, it would go before the Senate.
“They’ve been hearing the same message we’ve been hearing and believe they will be supportive of the bill,” Sandifer said.
The legislation, as proposed, would achieve the following:
• Replace PACT with new end-of-the-year accountability tests that feature “essay” exams in March and more easily scored multiple-choice exams in May. Schools would get final results within a few weeks of the May tests, compared to late July with PACT
• Require “formative” assessments in English language arts, mathematics, science and social studies. These tests would provide teachers with feedback on individual students’ strengths and weaknesses and allow them to customize instruction based on those needs.
• Explore the feasibility of using current high school end-of-course tests to replace the state’s current high school exit exam.
• Revise the content of annual school report cards to make it more understandable and useful for parents.
• Give schools with low report card ratings more flexibility in using their state technical assistance funds. The proposed House bill would formally incorporate that flexibility into the state’s accountability law.
Rex is hopeful the new end-of-the-year accountability tests would be ready to go by the spring of 2009. However, Whitmire, who chairs the House education subcommittee that will conduct two days of hearings next week listening to supporters and opponents of the proposed bill, feels 2010 is a more reasonable target.
“I don’t see how something this complicated, with this many changes, could be implemented by that time,” Whitmire said.
No matter how you slice it, Sandifer feels the end of PACT is not a matter of if, but when.
“I believe this is the right time,” Sandifer said. “Everyone understands that we talk about education but, sometimes, we (legislators) have to be educated as well. The education community has done a good job educating the people on the issue.”