The pandemic derailed the last two months of 2020’s spring semester and canned traditional state testing in Georgia’s schools. Now, the state is scrapping some of those same tests for the current academic year.
This week, the Georgia Department of Education announced the state has eliminated half of the high school Georgia Milestones End-of-Course tests. Newly abandoned subject tests include exams for geometry, ninth grade literature and composition, physical science and economics.
High schools will continue to administer exams for algebra, American literature and composition, biology and U.S. history.
State School Superintendent Richard Woods said he has long held worries about the pressure of standardized tests.
“I have expressed deep and persistent concerns about the number and weight of high-stakes tests in Georgia,” Woods said in a news release. “While there is certainly still work to do, Georgia’s state testing requirements are now in line with the federal minimum, significantly decreasing the testing burden in Georgia’s public schools. Reducing the number of high-stakes tests allows space for a greater focus on teaching, learning, and remediation — exactly where the focus should be for Georgia’s students and teachers.”
According to the Georgia Department of Education, the eighth grade social studies and high school U.S. history Milestones are the only tests being administered that are not required by federal law.
School Districts Respond
Students in Cobb County public schools will now have fewer standardized tests to take upon the completion of their courses. Cobb County School District spokesperson Eric Rauch said the cuts to state testing will benefit teachers and students.
“Assessment should be a tool used by teachers to help our students,” Rauch said in a statement to the MDJ. “Reducing high-stakes testing is a good thing for students because it gives teachers more time to identify what their students know, more time for teachers to teach what their students need, and more time for students to learn. This decision is of benefit for our schools, our teachers, and most importantly, our students.”
Marietta City Schools took a similar stance, and spokesperson Jen Brock affirmed the state’s decision to end some testing. She also advocated for Measure of Academic Progress assessments, more frequent tests that allow schools to change instruction mid-year.
“We support the state’s reduction of summative assessments that only provide information about student progress and achievement after the fact,” Brock said in a statement to the MDJ. “Additionally, we are proud of our role as a state leader in formative assessments such as MAP Growth testing, which provide teachers and families with a current understanding of each student’s areas of growth and achievement so that instruction can be quickly adjusted to better support the needs of the child.”
According to Brock, Marietta City Schools administers MAP tests three times a year, and teachers use the results to tailor instruction to student needs. Fall tests are administered in late August and early September, winter tests are administered in January and spring tests are administered in late April and early May, Brock said.
Georgia schools will administer 19 state-required tests this school year, a drop from 32 in 2015. The latest cuts come in response to Senate Bill 367. Signed by Gov. Brian Kemp in July, the legislation reduces the number of student assessments.
A Federal Testing Waiver
Earlier this year, the state requested a waiver of federal standardized testing requirements for the 2020-21 school year, but, in a letter addressed to state school officials on Sept. 3, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said “you should not anticipate such waivers being granted.”
“... it is now our expectation that states will, in the interest of students, administer summative assessments during the 2020-2021 school year, consistent with the requirements of the law and following the guidance of local health officials,” DeVos said in the letter.
This week, three Cobb school board members — Randy Scamihorn, David Banks and Brad Wheeler — said days spent administering tests could instead be used for instruction. In a letter to the MDJ, they said, “We don’t need bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. telling our teachers what their students need.”
In response to DeVos’ letter, Woods is telling all stakeholders to not let tests be a burden.
“To our districts, families, educators, and students: don’t worry about the tests,” Woods said. “Given the unique environment we are in, they are neither valid nor reliable measures of academic progress or achievement. I repeat: do not worry about the tests. Worry about meeting the students and teachers where they are. Worry about a safe and supportive restart. Worry about the well-being of your students and teachers. Worry about doing what’s right.”