Georgia school chief: Governor's accountability ideas rely too much on testing

Not everyone agrees with the vision for Georgia's education system submitted today to the U.S. Department of Education. Including Gov. Nathan Deal.

Georgia was among 33 states facing a deadline today to turn in their school accountability systems under the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind.  Seen as an antidote to the overly prescriptive NCLB and its reliance on test scores to determine whether schools made Adequate Yearly Progress, ESSA returned more discretion to states.

But in a five-page letter earlier this month, Deal suggested the Georgia Department of Education didn't use that discretion wisely in some areas, especially in how it planned to hold schools accountable for student performance. "I am greatly concerned that the draft Every Student Succeeds Act plan, submitted to me for review on Aug. 14, reflects a missed opportunity to set high expectations for Georgia students and to move toward even more effective innovation in K-12 education in our state."

While DOE authored the accountability plan, it sought feedback from Georgians, and the wide range of responses, obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution under the Georgia Open Records Act, shows why consensus is hard-won in education.

My AC colleague Ty Tagami explained Deal's concerns:

The governor told Woods his plan lacked ambition, noting in a Sept. 6 letter that the plan's testing requirements "should be revised and strengthened."

Deal also said he thought allowing schools to get credit for non-core courses such as art would allow schools that already offer these courses to "pad" their scores, and suggested that other schools that instead use their resources and student time for supplemental reading and math instruction to at-risk students would be penalized. Deal also wrote that encouraging schools to offer Advanced Placement courses without requiring the external check of an AP exam could lead to watered down courses because, he wrote, it "creates an incentive for schools and districts to enroll students in AP courses where there is little monitoring and regulation of quality ....”

Woods responded to Deal with his own five-page letter. Here is an excerpt:

Your requested changes to the College and Career Ready Performance Index model – which was developed by a widely representative committee of Georgians and vetted by national experts – would remove or adjust all indicators that do not incorporate test scores. This would lead to a CCRPI measure based nearly 100 percent on test scores, which is essentially no different from AYP.

The AYP system failed to result in meaningful improvement in student outcomes. The state should be extremely cautious about adopting an accountability system that returns to a disproportionate emphasis on test scores and the unintended consequences associated with such a system – this would be a huge step backward for our state.

As an educator and school leader who has worked under the compliance models of both No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, I would caution that the unintended consequences of adopting some of your requested changes would take us back to the days of impossible expectations for schools, narrowing of opportunities for students, declining/stagnating performance, and overemphasis on testing.

Georgia is experiencing remarkable success, a testament to the work and dedication of educators as well as our commitment to pursue a path of flexibility, opportunity, innovation, and improvement. Georgia’s ESSA plan supports our continued efforts down that path.

The efforts of the thousands of stakeholders who gave feedback on this state plan reflect the key truth that Georgians are demanding more from their education system. They are demanding a holistic approach that supports the whole child. They are demanding a system that produces students who are not only college and career ready, but also ready for life. They are demanding more than can be measured by a high-stakes test.

I deeply believe this plan meets those demands. All of Georgia should be proud of the plan we will submit to the United States Department of Education, as it is a plan that has been crafted by Georgians, for Georgians.

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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.