Testing glitches mean Milestones will not count for retention

(Note to readers: If you are willing to share your view of the state school board decision today, please email AJC education reporter Ty Tagami at Ty.Tagami@ajc.com. Thanks)

Also, just posted a great teacher essay on the Milestones mess. Click here.

Many of you complained computer problems undermined the second year of the Georgia Milestones in your school systems, putting the scores in doubt for students coping with stalled tests and frozen screens.

The state agrees.

Today, the Georgia Department of Education won state Board of Education approval to waive promotion, placement, and retention requirements tied to the End of Grade tests in grades 3, 5 and 8.

(A refresher on testing lingo: It's now End of Grade or EOG for the Milestones in elementary and middle, and End of Course or EOC for the Milestones in high school.)

As my AJC colleague Ty Tagami reported today out of the state board meeting:

There were some schools that had intermittent issues, said Melissa Fincher, director of testing for the Georgia Department of Education. Results were transmitted, but some kids may not have performed at their best because of the disruption, she said, so it wasn’t fair to them to use the scores.

She said 7 percent of test “sessions” had been affected as of Friday. Each student in grades three through eight has nine sessions. Close to half the nearly 1 million students in that age group took online exams this year, the largest in state history.

The school board voted to void the results for use in decisions about promoting students to the next grade.

Of course, few kids actually are retained in Georgia. (See the state policy on the appeals process.)

However, there seems to be stress around the question as I heard from a therapist who said, "I have been inundated with anxious young people and their parents about the Milestone's effect this year on retention."

At this point, the results of the End of Course tests in high school will still account for 20 percent of  student grades as there have been fewer reports of glitches. (Fewer testers are going online at the same time with the high school tests.)

The state DOE is also asking to delay using Milestone scores to rate teachers, but that has to be approved by the multi-agency Educator Effectiveness Committee, an advisory group created to improve teacher quality.

In its statement DOE said:

During this year's administration of the Georgia Milestones EOG tests, some local school districts reported technology-related interruptions of online testing. While some of these events were short-term and quickly resolved, with minimal impact on student experiences, others required more extensive technical support. The GaDOE believes that further analysis of the possible impacts of these interruptions is warranted prior to the release of student scores, given the stakes involved for students.

"I am committed to a responsible approach to accountability that ensures public trust in the process,” State School Superintendent Richard Woods said. “Given the technology issues experienced by some students during the online administration of the Georgia Milestones EOGs, we believe it is best to proceed with caution when it comes to basing promotion, placement and retention on the outcome of the tests. While many districts tested online without a major incident, in the interests of our students, we asked the State Board of Education for a waiver of the promotion, placement and retention portion of the rule."

State law requires that students in grade three earn an At/Above Grade Level designation in reading to be promoted to fourth grade. In grades five and eight, state law requires that students earn an At/Above Grade Level designation in reading, as well as score in the Developing Learner achievement level or above in mathematics to be promoted to the next grade. These are the promotion, placement, and retention requirements being waived for the 2016 EOG administration. Some local school systems have additional promotion criteria, and this waiver will not preclude school districts from applying local policies and protocols for promotion and retention decisions for individual students.

Pending the approval of the Educator Effectiveness Committee, student growth will be held harmless for the Teacher Keys Effectiveness System (TKES)/Leader Keys Effectiveness System (LKES) this year, and will not count next year with the revised evaluation system. The Teacher Assessment on Performance Standards (TAPS) component of the TKES and the Leader Assessment on Performance Standards (LAPS) component of the LKES will continue to be the sole measure used to determine the performance rating of teachers of record and leaders reported by employing school systems and charter schools to the GaPSC for certification purposes.

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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.