Georgia school chief releases plan to reduce high-stakes testing pressure

Among his recommendations: Don’t count End of Course scores in student’s final grade

State School Superintendent Richard Woods outlines how Georgia will approach high-stakes standardized testing in light of statements from U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos that she will not waive federal testing requirements for Georgia or any other state.

“Make no mistake. If we fail to assess students, it will have a lasting effect for years to come. Not only will vulnerable students fall behind, but we will be abandoning the important, bipartisan reforms of the past two decades at a critical moment. Opponents of reform, like labor unions, have already begun to call for the permanent elimination of testing. If they succeed in eliminating assessments, transparency and accountability will soon follow,” wrote DeVos in a letter to Council of Chief State School Officers earlier this month.

In the spring, the U.S. Department of Education excused states from the federal testing mandate due to the closure of schools by the pandemic. Georgia sought to be exempted this year as well.

From the Georgia Department of Education today:

Today, Superintendent Woods is announcing a list of immediate actions and recommendations to reduce the pressure of high-stakes testing in Georgia classrooms for the 2020-21 school year, including addressing the requirement that Georgia Milestones End of Course (EOC) scores constitute 20% of a student’s grade in an EOC course.

“I remain disappointed and disheartened by the federal directive to administer high-stakes tests in a pandemic,” Superintendent Woods said. “Georgia will abide by federal law, but we are not going to layer additional stress and burden onto our students and teachers during this time. In this environment, these tests are not valid or reliable measures of academic progress or achievement, and we are taking all possible steps at the state level to reduce their high-stakes impact.”

Below are immediate actions the Georgia Department of Education is taking to address the high-stakes impact of the Georgia Milestones assessment in the 2020-21 school year:

  • Recommending lowering the 20% EOC course grade weight. At the Oct. 1 State Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Woods will recommend that the current EOC 20% course grade weight be lowered to 0.01% (essentially zero – the weight cannot be zero due to state law) for the 2020-21 school year.
  • Waiving promotion/retention consequences tied to Georgia Milestones. Effective immediately, it is the official directive of the Georgia Department of Education that school districts with flexibility contracts (Charter System or Strategic Waiver School System) use input from teachers and parents, placement committees, class performance, and formative tools to determine the need to promote or retain their students at the end of the 2020-21 school year. Student promotion/retention decisions should not be based on 2020-21 performance on the Georgia Milestones tests.
  • Providing flexible options for administering the 2020 winter End-of-Course assessments. Districts are given the flexibility to assess students during the winter mid-month or spring administration windows, as needed, to ensure a more appropriate amount of instructional time is available prior to the administration of the EOC. Districts can also request extending their local testing window later in the school day to include afternoon and evening testing sessions and/or utilize a compressed testing schedule due to the updated Georgia Milestones test design, which includes a significant decrease in student testing time.

Georgia was the first state in the nation to announce its intent to apply for a waiver of standardized testing requirements in 2020-21. While the U.S. Department of Education denied this request, the Department remains committed, if another opportunity becomes available, to aggressively pursuing testing waivers again.

The pursuit of common-sense assessment waivers during the COVID-19 pandemic is part of a broader effort in Georgia to pull back excessive high-stakes testing and accountability requirements that place an undue burden on the classroom and make it more difficult for teachers to teach and students to learn. Previous efforts include getting Georgia standardized testing requirements in line with the federal minimum through Senate Bill 367; the elimination of double-testing for AP, IB and dual enrollment students; and the pursuit of the maximum flexibility allowable under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

To ensure districts have the tools to gauge student learning and potential learning loss as a result of the pandemic, GaDOE is providing access to BEACON, a formative assessment tool, at no cost to every Georgia school district. Formative assessments are diagnostic and non-high-stakes and are designed to monitor student learning and plan instruction, rather than to report out results for accountability purpose. Use of BEACON is not required but will allow districts to assess student performance and identify gaps as a result of the COVID-19 school closures.

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