Do Georgia's new Milestones tests demand too much of younger students?

With some time to review the 2016 Milestones results, I see no cause for panic. Unless you are Atlanta, DeKalb or Clayton. The under performance of some schools in those districts, especially APS, suggests they could be likely targets for state takeover.

The scores released last week from the Milestones also raise questions about what's occurring with Georgia's younger students, whose performance was disappointing and reignited the argument we have pushed down content that is too sophisticated.

(You can find metro Atlanta elementary school performance here, middle schools here and high schools here.)

Voters will decide in November whether to give Gov. Nathan Deal the power to take over failing schools and place them in his Opportunity School District. The benevolent language of the ballot question --- Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance? – assures passage in my view.

The criteria for selection into the OSD are chronically low scores on the state rating index, which is called the College and Career Ready Performance Index. Test scores largely determine where a school ranks.

According to the AJC:

Atlanta Public Schools, which had some of the lowest pass rates in the metro area for English and math in the third, fifth and eighth grades, also had two of the four Georgia schools with a 0 percent proficiency rate in third grade English.

In DeKalb County, which competed with Clayton County and Atlanta for the mantle of low performer, Superintendent Steve Green said he saw promising signs, with 29 elementary schools doing at least as well in English in grades three and five as the state average.

Students in grades 3 through 8 take end-of-grade tests in language arts and math. In grades 5 and 8, science and social studies tests are added. High school students take end-of-course tests in 10 courses.

Statewide, there was a slight improvement in performance, although testing experts explain the bump reflects greater teacher familiarity with the tests, which were introduced last year.  However, there are emerging concerns around this year's lackluster performance of the early grades, which some teachers blame on expecting younger kids to master overly complex material.

The AJC's Ty Tagami noted: Third-and fourth-grade students showed improvement only in social studies. Fourth-grade students lost ground in English, and proficiency rates in math and science were flat in both grades.

Dana Rickman, director of policy and research for the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, told Tagami: I don't know what's going on with the little kids. Is it a resource issue with the teaching? Is it alignment of the standards with the tests? Are the tests too hard?

A teacher on AJC Get Schooled Facebook who read Rickman's comment responded: Yes, they are developmentally inappropriate for young children. How about let teachers teach more instead of testing "little kids."

Another teacher said about the Milestones: They are too difficult for 3rd and 4th graders. And they shouldn't have to type their answers if they don't know how to type well.

In the Facebook discussion on this blog, a commenter said: "What the United States does differently from the highest performing schools in the world is to school and test our youngest children in inappropriate ways. The Common Core curriculum was developed without regard to developmental appropriateness and is very age-inappropriate for the younger students. It naturally follows that the testing is also very developmentally inappropriate. Not only are test passages' reading level frequently years about the grade of the child being tested, and the material beyond the ability of many that age to be properly grasped, but the functionality of the test itself (computers, typing, calculators, etc) is above what they can do. Not to mention that sitting for that many hours is also beyond what they should be able to do behaviorally."

I would love to hear from teachers and parents on these questions. On one hand, experts tell us we expect too little of students in the United States, that even young children are capable of far more than we ask in our schools.

On the other,  I hear teachers complain we are teaching developmentally inappropriate content to younger and younger children.

Which is it?

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.