Brian Kemp is holding a press conference in the afternoon Tuesday with State School Superintendent Richard Woods to outline a plan to cut back on high-stakes tests in Georgia. 
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Governor will announce proposed testing reductions Tuesday

The governor plans to announce legislation Tuesday to “reduce high-stakes K-12 testing in Georgia.”

Brian Kemp is holding a press conference in the afternoon with State School Superintendent Richard Woods to outline his proposal. Thus far, no details have been released.

It’s apparent Kemp took notes when teacher after teacher complained about over-testing during his statewide listening tour this fall.

With the reductions in state-mandated end-of-year exams already in Georgia, there’s not much left to eliminate and still meet federal testing requirements outside of high school courses.

The Georgia Legislature pared down the number of mandatory standardized tests from 32 to 24 in 2016. That is still above the 17 tests required by federal law, though, with most of the surplus exams in high school.

It’s curious Georgia would eliminate testing in high school when many teens are preparing to go off to college where course grades rest almost entirely on two or three tests. Parents protesting the proposed cuts to dual enrollment have pointed out their kids are gaining valuable experience through the program in the significance of tests in college.

Many teachers have told me that what gets tested is what gets most of the attention and effort of students.  (As a parent of four, I have seen that dynamic as well.)

One of the tests that could be cut is the end-of-course exam required of high school students in Economics/Business/Free Enterprise.

In a recent blog, Mike Raymer, a former Georgia Council Economics Teacher of the Year and now executive director of the Georgia Council on Economic Education, argued that would be a mistake.

Raymer said eliminating the testing requirement that measures students’ proficiency in high school economics is short-sighted, writing:

The obvious, but so far unrecognized, consequence of removing economics testing would be that many schools would redirect their resources from economics to other courses which require state assessments.

Everyone in business knows that what gets measured gets managed. Similarly, in education, what is tested is prioritized in terms of professional development opportunities, teacher quality and resources. In our resource limited school systems can we truly justify de-emphasizing courses that teach basic economic principles and personal financial literacy? 

Another possible target is civics education. 

Sharing his concerns, Randell Trammell, CEO of the State YMCA of Georgia and founder of the Georgia Center for Civic Engagement, wrote for the blog recently:

But citizenship education has fallen victim to what has been termed as a narrowing of the curriculum. Yes, there are civic strands throughout the entire K-12 Georgia Standards of Excellence, but they have certainly taken a back seat.

Now in Georgia, it comes under attack again as we find that our state school superintendent’s primary legislative priority for the upcoming session is to reduce the testing load to align with federally mandated minimum testing standards. In short, the majority of the tests that were proposed for cut are those for social studies.

A few hours before getting the news about Kemp’s press conference, I was reading a column by education researcher Chester Finn, a former assistant secretary for research and improvement at the U.S. Department of Education 

Finn was writing about Maryland’s program that replaces high-stakes testing with end-of-the-year projects and the pitfalls he sees in that trend.

I thought his concerns might add to our discussion in Georgia. Finn wrote:

When we seek alternatives to the proctored and monitored exam form of high-stakes accountability, however, the challenges multiply. Nearly always, those alternatives—whether classroom work, teacher-administered exams, student projects, performances, portfolios, you name it—are judged subjectively, almost always by adults who know the kids’ identities and academic track records, and most of the time by adults who also have reasons to seek student success, whether it’s because they care about a kid passing and graduating or they’re being hassled by parents or principal or they know that the school’s passing or graduation rate is on the line. And how on earth can anyone actually monitor the criteria by which that alternative work gets judged or what kinds of assistance are given to students while they do it? 

I, too, worry about over-testing and placing excessive pressure on test scores. I understand that, even under the best of circumstances, tests—including the very best kinds, such as AP and IB have developed—can only yield limited information about what students have learned and what they know and can do. I understand that there’s much more we want to know about kids and schools than test scores can tell us. But I also understand this: Accountability systems are meaningless (or worse) if they lack integrity, and when we rest them on subjective judgments by adults who face many pressures and incentives, we heighten the risk of mischief. A secure, well-proctored assessment may not yield an optimal accountability system, but at least the data will have integrity.

 

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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.
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