From Dibels to EOGs…A Parent’s Guide to Deciphering School Exams in Charlotte

Gone are the days of Socrates, when students in ancient Greece were tested through dialogue and discussion, not multiple choice. In today’s modern world, students (and their schools) in the Charlotte area must be assessed over and over again — sometimes several times a year.
Some tests count toward the child’s grade point average . . . some have no bearing on the child’s individual report card whatsoever . . . while others are required for high school graduation. And frankly — making sense of some of these tests and their scores can make a person want to snap a No. 2 pencil in half.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the key exams your child will likely face in the CMS school system. Keep in mind that tests vary by district, and in some cases, by school.

Dibels, or Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literary Skills
This set of tests is given three times a year to CMS kindergartners. It’s not a state-mandated test; CMS has simply chosen to use it. The tests are quick, 1-minute oral assessments of a child’s development of pre-reading and early reading skills (such as phonics and the alphabet). Kids aren’t graded on Dibels. They don’t even “pass” or “fail,” and parents don’t necessarily get any results. Rather, it’s a tool for teachers to see where each child stands in those early literacy skills.
Dr. Trish Underhill, the director of local/national assessments for the CMS district, says the Dibels program has collected information on more than a million kids nationwide. “They have a lot of data that teachers can use to help children become successful, proficient readers.”

The North Carolina Pretest-Grade 3
All North Carolina 3rd-graders are given this test within the first three weeks of the school year. The tests are multiple-choice and focus on math and reading. This test does not reflect on the child’s official report card or grade for the year. It basically tells teachers where the child is in respect to North Carolina’s standards for this age group, and can be a predictor of the expected growth for each student and school. Kids should have some experience with a calculator before taking this test.
Parents will receive their child’s developmental scale score, which will fall somewhere between the numbers 1 through 4. Scores of 1 and 2 are considered below grade level, and levels 3 and 4 mean your child has mastered the information learned in the 2nd grade, and is well prepared for the 3rd grade. “The test gives a real quick snapshot of the performance level of each student, but it does not give diagnostic information,” says Dana Wrights, director of data analysis for CMS.
You’ll also see something called a “lexile score” on this test and others. This has to do with reading levels, and is really a tool parents can use to provide appropriate and interesting reading to their children. (See sidebar for more information.)

End of Grade Assessments (EOGs)
All North Carolina students are given End of Grade tests during the last three weeks of grades 3 through 8. The exam measures both reading and math through multiple-choice questions. For the reading portion, kids are asked to answer questions based on a story or poem. The math part focuses on five objectives: number and operations; measurement; geometry; data analysis and probability; and algebra.
Parents will receive a report similar to the Grade 3 pretest report. Students are placed somewhere between the numbers 1 and 4, and you can see where your child falls in comparison to other students. The End of Grade tests do not have any impact on a child’s actual course grade or grade point average. The tests are instead designed to assess North Carolina schools. Not all students receive the same test — in fact, each student could get a different set of questions on exam day. Starting with the 2007-2008 school year, students in grades 5 and 8 will also take EOGs in science.

North Carolina Writing Assessments
The writing assessment is given to 4th, 7th and 10th grade students in March. This is an essay exam, which assesses how well a child can tell a story and convince an audience of his or her point. Students are again scored between levels 1 through 4. This test does not count toward grade point average.

North Carolina Test of Computer Skills
All North Carolina 8th-graders are tested on their computer skills, such as Microsoft Office, spreadsheets, databases, Word documents, etc. This is a graduation requirement. If your child does not pass on the first try, he or she can take it every year until he or she passes. Other than that, the test does not count toward a grade point average.

End of Course Tests (EOCs)
Students, this is not an exam you want to sleep through: it counts as 25 percent of your grade! It’s given to all North Carolina high school students (or even some advanced middle school students). The tests are multiple-choice, and are generally given for these subjects: Algebra I and II, Biology, Chemistry, Civics and Economics, English, Geometry, Physical Science, Physics and US History.
Students will again be placed along that scale between 1 and 4. But the state also provides schools with software that converts scores into a 100 point scale, giving each student their course grade. Those are reflected on the students’ final report cards.
Students with certain disabilities or those who are not proficient in English have the opportunity to take alternate EOCs.
The bottom line — teachers say they are more than willing to speak directly with parents about any questions or concerns.

Helpful Web sites

Dibels: Click on “kindergarten” on the left-hand side of the site, then click on each of the measures in the middle of the page to see a video clip of a teacher administering the Dibels tests to a student.

N.C. Pretest-Grade 3:
Cticeactivity. Kids can get a preview of their first experience with multiple choice with the practice activity provided by the state. Parents, there’s also an answer booklet!

EOGs: Click on the links for testing to see sample exams for each grade level, and each subject, including the science EOG “under development.”

N.C. Writing Assessment:
ng/mainpage.htm. This is an online interactive training tool for kids to prepare for the test.

This gives students sample questions for most subjects.

Lexile Scores: Parents can take their child’s lexile scores and plug them into this site, which will give parents a list of books appropriate for their child’s reading level and interests.

Erika Edwards is a Charlotte freelance writer and has a parenting blog on