Ga. education board balks at reducing the importance of Milestones tests

Superintendent Richard Woods meets with students at Fitzgerald High School. CONTRIBUTED

Georgia high school students will still have to take standardized tests this school year but the stakes won’t be as high as usual.

The stakes also will not be as low as state School Superintendent Richard Woods had hoped.

The Georgia Milestones normally count for a fifth of the grades in core high school courses, but Woods thought them a burdensome distraction during the pandemic. So he asked the Georgia Board of Education to make them toothless.

On Thursday, the board, concerned that students would not take the tests seriously if they were seen as inconsequential, rejected Woods' request.

“I’m not ready to throw out this year and say it doesn’t matter,” said Mike Royal, who voted with the majority for an alternate proposal. It reduces the weight of the tests to a tenth of the grades for the four courses in which they are given.

Woods had argued that the tests, which influence grade point averages and, therefore, college admissions and scholarships, would make an already difficult school year more stressful and would also be unfair. Many students are attending online because their families are concerned about becoming infected or because their school district isn’t offering in-person classes.

Board members expressed frustration with the way Woods released his proposal publicly last week — without talking it over with them first. One asked why he had chosen to weight the tests at 0.01% of a course grade.

Woods explained that he had to set the weight above zero.

“Point zero one was about as close to zero as I could get,” he said. “If I could have brought it down to zero, I would have done that.”

Woods proposed the rollback after U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced last month that states should not expect another waiver from administering the federally-required tests like they got last spring.

First, Woods told schools that the scores would not be part of teacher evaluations. Then, he directed schools not to use the scores in promotion and retention decisions in third, fifth and eighth grades. Then, he pitched the grading rollback.

Eight board members voted against it before voting 9-3 to instead weight the scores at 10%.

The proposal now goes to the public for a 30-day comment period before a final board vote.

In a written statement after the meeting, Woods said the mandate to give the tests and the board decision on their weight is unreasonable and insensitive” given the realities of the pandemic. He encouraged the public to engage in the commenting process.

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