Betsy DeVos approves Georgia’s plan to come up with better tests than Milestones

Georgia is one of four states thus far accepted into federal pilot to create better assessments

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has approved Georgia’s plan to pilot alternative assessments to the Milestones tests given to public school students each year.

DeVos also approved North Carolina’s submission for an alternative test to satisfy the annual testing requirement in the Every Student Succeeds Act.

“I’m pleased that Georgia and North Carolina are rethinking how to assess student achievement in ways that are more relevant and connected to the classroom,” said DeVos in a statement. “This pilot program gives states that are willing to try a new approach an opportunity to assess student achievement without sacrificing rigor or skirting accountability. I look forward to seeing the impact this study will have on student outcomes.”

The Georgia Board of Education sought a waiver from federal testing requirements in response to complaints from parents and educators about the use of a single high-stakes test on a single day to measure what kids were learning and how well schools were teaching.

Districts banded together to develop alternative tests for the federal "innovative assessment" pilot program. Under the pilot, students in these districts will take the homegrown tests rather than the Milestones

While Georgia submitted three alternative testing approaches proposed by local districts to the federal education agency, DeVos approved only two of them, the Georgia Map Partnership and a Putnam County-led consortium that will employ a test developed by a company called Navvy Education.

The Georgia MAP Assessment Partnership entails Marietta, Dalton and Trion city schools and the Clayton, Floyd, Jackson, Jasper, Polk, Gilmer and Haralson county school systems. The Putnam County Consortium includes Calhoun City and the Dougherty, Evans, Fayette, Floyd, Liberty, McIntosh, Oglethorpe and Pike county school systems.

The feds did not approve a testing alternative developed by Cobb County called Cobb Metrics, saying it failed to meet several requirements of the innovative assessment pilot program.

“I am proud that Georgia continues to be a national leader in pursuing flexibility for our schools and students,” state School Superintendent Richard Woods said today. “A maximum of seven states will be selected to participate in this demonstration authority, so Georgia is in a distinguished group. For the benefit of our students, we must all continue to rethink assessment in the state of Georgia. I will keep pursuing a change in state law to get state testing requirements in line with the federal minimum, along with a more realistic use of test scores for accountability purposes.”

Georgia's pilot program was part of Senate Bill 362, a 2018 law enabling school districts to experiment with alternative tests. The law also requires the state Department of Education to eventually select from among the alternatives a system that the rest of Georgia's 180 school districts could use in place of the Milestones.

The pilots will use tests that give teachers real-time insights throughout the year on how students are performing, as opposed to the Milestones where testing and scores come too late to inform instruction.

These more frequent and smaller tests – closer to quizzes than end-of-the-year blockbuster exams – will help teachers see where students may be losing ground or lagging. And the more frequent testing will remove the spring panic that many students and schools felt over the annual Milestones.

Before the participating districts can stop giving the Milestones to their students, they’ll have to satisfy the state that their alternative tests are comparable and provide reliable insights into student performance.

As GaDOE explains:

Each approved consortia must demonstrate comparability between their innovative assessment system and Georgia Milestones before being approved by GaDOE to implement their assessment system in lieu of Georgia Milestones. Additionally, ED is requiring that the Putnam Consortium's assessment model produce a measure for the literacy (Lexile) indicator of CCRPI before being implemented.

The consortia will have the opportunity to present their comparability evidence to the newly formed innovative assessment technical advisory committee as early as this fall. Once comparability has been established, GaDOE will work with the participating districts to amend their state flexibility contracts accordingly. That is the vehicle through which districts will be approved to use the innovative assessment system in lieu of Georgia Milestones.

Here is the official statement from the U.S. Department of Education:

The Innovative Assessment Demonstration Authority (IADA) program is designed to encourage local involvement in the development of the next generation of assessments. As part of the program, states can pilot new and innovative assessments on a small scale, avoid double-testing students on both pilot and statewide exams, and develop strategies for implementing such innovative assessments statewide over time.

North Carolina’s new innovative assessment will rely on the use of a customized, end-of-year assessment (called a “route”) for each student, developed in response to a student’s performance on two formative assessments taken during the school year. Each route represents a cluster of test questions designed to measure a student’s achievement accurately and efficiently.

To participate in the pilot, states must apply and demonstrate how their innovative assessments are developed in collaboration with local stakeholders, aligned to challenging state academic standards and accessible to all students through use of principles of universal design for learning, among other requirements.

Georgia and North Carolina join two other pilot states, Louisiana and New Hampshire, which were granted flexibility as part of the IADA in 2018.