Georgia Takes First Steps Toward New Way of Testing Kids

Georgia officials have been searching for ways to reduce overall testing in schools.
Georgia officials have been searching for ways to reduce overall testing in schools.
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Standardized testing has caused controversy in Georgia and around the country in recent years.

The testing ‘opt-out’ movement—where parents give permission for their children to skip testing–has gained momentum in states like New York, Colorado, and Florida.  The movement is smaller in Georgia, although state officials have been searching for ways to reduce overall testing.

A few years ago, the state did away with its high school graduation exam. The legislature also relaxed testing requirements for students taking advanced classes and reduced the overall number of tests students take. During the 2018 legislative session, the General Assembly passed a bill that created The Innovative Assessment Pilot Program. It lets school districts petition the state to develop their own testing programs that could eventually replace the state’s Georgia Milestones assessment.

The state board of education gave the nod last week to the Cobb County School District, Putnam County Schools, and a consortium of districts called the Georgia MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) Assessment Partnership to move ahead with plans to develop new tests for the 2018-19 school year. The idea is to issue more ‘formative’ tests –or small, frequent assessments—so teachers can constantly see how their students are progressing. Georgia Milestones, which the state developed after dropping out of a national testing consortium, is a ‘summative’ test, which students take at the end of a course or school year.

“Milestones is great, but it was never intended to be anything but a test to see how well your student performed in that grade level,” said state board of education member Helen Rice. She said formative tests would give teachers more information, especially for students who struggle academically.

With 100,000 students, Cobb is the biggest district participating in the pilot. The school system plans to expand on a program it has been using for years called ‘Cobb Metrics.’ In an application to the state board of education, district officials said Cobb Metrics will be ‘refined and adjusted’ to ‘meet state and federal accountability requirements.’

Despite national discussions around reducing testing, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to test students each year. Georgia is hoping to get a waiver from that requirement in order to proceed with the pilot. State board of education member Mike Royal said he doesn’t foresee any roadblocks.

“We are…going to immediately engage our consultants we’ve been working with in Washington [DC] to move forward on that,” he said.

The deadline to apply for a federal waiver is Dec. 17.