Milestones tests mark critical pandemic moment for Georgia students

Rashaeda Goodwin, a fifth grade teacher at Thurgood Marshall Elementary in Morrow, Georgia, assists a student during class on April 19, 2022. Students across the state will be taking the Georgia Milestones in April and May. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

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Rashaeda Goodwin, a fifth grade teacher at Thurgood Marshall Elementary in Morrow, Georgia, assists a student during class on April 19, 2022. Students across the state will be taking the Georgia Milestones in April and May. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Milestones tests taken by Georgia students in upcoming days matter again.

The state canceled the testing in 2020 as the pandemic raged and classes moved online. Last academic year, testing resumed but participation lagged after the state paused a rule that has scores counting for a fifth of high school course grades. At some schools, less than a quarter of students took certain tests.

This round, districts are urging families to take them seriously.

“Our goal is to establish a new baseline rather than comparing your schools’ performance to pre-pandemic norms,” State School Superintendent Richard Woods said in a letter to school administrators earlier this year.

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A group of fifth grade students at Thurgood Marshall Elementary in Morrow, Georgia, work on math problems during class on April 19, 2022. Students across the state will be taking the Georgia Milestones in April and May. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

A group of fifth grade students at Thurgood Marshall Elementary in Morrow, Georgia, work on math problems during class on April 19, 2022. Students across the state will be taking the Georgia Milestones in April and May. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

caption arrowCaption
A group of fifth grade students at Thurgood Marshall Elementary in Morrow, Georgia, work on math problems during class on April 19, 2022. Students across the state will be taking the Georgia Milestones in April and May. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Georgia Milestones tests, which are largely taken every April and May, are a measure of how students grasp the state-adopted content standards in the core subjects of English language arts, mathematics, science and social studies. The tests are given to students enrolled in grades 3-8 and high school.

Some districts, such as Atlanta Public Schools, are downplaying expectations.

“Based on our data, we expect lower achievement results this spring than in pre-pandemic years,” the district said in a statement that cited research showing students across the country are not achieving and growing at the same rates as in pre-pandemic years.

The tests are designed to show content mastery, which was a challenge in “normal times,” said a statement from Clayton County Public Schools. We expect it to be even more challenging to achieve content mastery during the current reality.”

State and federal guidelines require 95% participation. Results are used to create the College and Career Ready Performance Index, an annual school report card based largely on standardized test scores.

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This is a Georgia Milestones Assessment bulletin board at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School on April 19, 2022. Teachers and faculty create the bulletin boards about a month before testing as a way to motivate and encourage students. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

This is a Georgia Milestones Assessment bulletin board at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School on April 19, 2022. Teachers and faculty create the bulletin boards about a month before testing as a way to motivate and encourage students. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

caption arrowCaption
This is a Georgia Milestones Assessment bulletin board at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School on April 19, 2022. Teachers and faculty create the bulletin boards about a month before testing as a way to motivate and encourage students. (Natrice Miller / natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Schools that fall below the required participation levels will see their scores lowered based on a formula. Those scores are used to compile lists of low-performing schools that are flagged for state improvement programs.

Fulton County Superintendent Mike Looney recently made a plea to parents to send their children to school for the testing.

“Parents, please, please send your children to school for the Milestones assessment so that we can accurately determine where we are relative to the state standards and begin making positive plans to close any achievement gaps that linger as a result of the last two years,” Looney said at a recent school board meeting.

Worries about learning loss during the pandemic contributed to the Cobb County School District’s push to keep schools open, a district spokeswoman said.

“We will all have to wait a few years to accurately analyze the data post-pandemic, but here in Cobb, we are not waiting on the data,” she said. “We are already providing extended learning opportunities to ensure that every one of our students has the tools and opportunities they need to succeed.”

ExploreMilestones scores confirm the impact of COVID-19 on Georgia students

DeKalb County Public Schools has emphasized extended learning time during the academic day, Saturday School, tutorials before and after school as well as credit recovery options to offer specific help to students who have experienced learning loss, regression or unfinished learning.

The Milestones will help district leaders identify any learning gaps that occurred during the pandemic, said Nakia Towns, deputy superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools.

“We can start to zone in on how do we recover the learning for students after this pandemic disruption,” she said. Ahead of the tests, teachers worked to “make sure our students are well-prepared to demonstrate their learning.”

Reporters Cassidy Alexander, Vanessa McCray and Ty Tagami contributed to this article.


Georgia Milestones Assessment

The Georgia Milestones Assessment System aims to show how well students are grasping the state-adopted content standards in the core content subjects of English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies. It’s a marker of how well students are prepared for the next grade, the next course, college or career.

Source: Georgia Department of Education