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Learning differences 

Fifteen-year-old sophomore Cully Little and 16-year-old junior Cece Garcia both attend East Chapel Hill High. They are both capable students, according to teacher Bob Brogden, who has had them in his history class. The two students also share a healthy disdain for the 110-minute end-of-course exams in five different subjects they are required to take each year, as well as the constant prepping in between.

But there are differences.

Little, who Brogden characterizes as "a bright kid," has been diagnosed with dyslexia and attention deficit disorder. These learning disabilities have caused him to struggle with course work and perform poorly on end-of-grade exams.

"I don't do well on those tests because they are too long," explains Little, lamenting the fact that later this year, he'll have to take those five different tests on top of his pre-SATs. Because of his disorders, he says, "it takes me more time to do it. My attention wavers and I get frustrated."

Brogden feels that Little "would do much better with a verbal test. His strengths are his abilities to visualize and verbalize concepts in a creative and artistic manner." The teacher goes on to say that such end-of-grade tests "are by no means an accurate reflection of him as a student."

Unlike Little, Garcia performs very well on standardized tests. Brogden characterizes her as "very intelligent and down to earth." The easy-going junior admits to feeling little pressure when it comes to her own test-taking abilities.

But she refutes the tests and their intended purpose nonetheless.

"They are certainly not an accurate way of testing people's knowledge or intelligence," she says, noting that "people learn and express themselves in different and deeper ways. The tests don't challenge you to do anything other than regurgitate things."

Brogden agrees with both Little and Garcia concerning the length and weaknesses of such high-stakes measurements.

"The tests are just not valid," he says, depicting them as being "10 miles wide and an inch deep. We're chasing a bunch of numbers that don't mean anything," says Brogden, referring to the numeric proficiency ratings where students must score at level three or higher to pass. "It's kinda like the person who knows the price of everything, but knows the value of nothing."

"They should base our performance on student portfolios, or have people come into the classroom to see how we are actually doing," Garcia says. "But instead they're basing everything on one test, and that's not fair."

Brogden recalls a recent incident while facilitating "a discussion on command economic systems. Since they are mostly representative of dictatorships, I was conveying the downside of such a system as being a lack of innovation, motivation and creativity." He says that Little stopped him, and pointed out that "that's exactly what school has become."

"I would be much more interested in school if I could take courses that interested me," Little told Brogden.

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