The PACT needs to be sent packing.
Legislation was introduced in the General Assembly last week that would effectively do away with the Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test and replace it with another test by 2010. The proposal has the support of many legislators, state Education Superintendent Jim Rex and, perhaps most significantly, the state's educators.
Since 1999, when the PACT was introduced, students in grades three through eight have taken challenge tests in math, English/language arts, science and social studies. The standards required by the test are among the most rigorous in the nation, even tougher than the standards required under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
But that has proven to be a source of both pride and frustration. While the state holds its students to high standards, it perennially ranks near the bottom of the national list in scholastic achievement and the performance of its schools.
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Last year was no exception. While some schools did well within their respective districts, no district in the state met the federal Adequate Yearly Progress standards.
To a large degree, that is the result of senseless regulations within the No Child Left Behind Law. For example, learning-disabled and non-English-speaking students are required to take the same proficiency tests as all other students. That obviously would skew the progress measurements.
But the PACT itself also is part of the problem. Teachers have complained since the test was introduce that the results, which are posted after the school year ends, come too late to be of use in correcting the problems of low-scoring students. Teachers say the test also provides no details on which subject areas students struggle or excel.
Rex and the sponsors of this proposal have called for replacing the PACT with a uniform system of incremental testing throughout the academic year that would give teachers and parents more detailed -- but easy to understand -- information about student performance. They would not, however, lower the state's tough standards.
House Education Chairman Bob Walker, who introduced the legislation last week, said is proposal would help teachers understand where students need to improve and also would give schools more credit for showing improvement.
The state's schools and school districts must be accountable to the families they serve. And establishing uniform standards by which to measure progress can be useful.
But measuring proficiency is only half the solution. Schools also must be enabled to pinpoint problems, find solutions and implement them. And the state must provide them the means to do so.
The PACT has been a source of frustration for teachers and students for nearly a decade. Often, too much of the school day has been focused on "teaching for the test" whether or not that is in the students' best interests.
The state needs to replace the PACT -- which Rex has called "time-consuming, duplicative, overly bureaucratic and bewilderingly complex" -- with a test that actually will help teachers raise students to a level of higher performance.
Next step: Persuade federal lawmakers to overhaul No Child Left Behind.
Consensus is growing among educators and lawmakers that new test is needed.
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