Teachers rally for stop to Georgia school testing plans during pandemic

Kaylen Moore, 16, student, speaks during a protest to urge a stop to standardized testing during COVID-19 pandemic at Liberty Plaza in Atlanta on Tuesday, December 15, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
Kaylen Moore, 16, student, speaks during a protest to urge a stop to standardized testing during COVID-19 pandemic at Liberty Plaza in Atlanta on Tuesday, December 15, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Teachers protested the ongoing mandate to administer the Georgia Milestones tests this school year, gathering outside the state Capitol Tuesday to say the pandemic has made it unsafe for teachers and students to linger indoors together during the hourslong tests.

Due to security protocols, the tests, which are all online, must generally be taken in schools rather than at home. That means students and teachers who have been doing school remotely will have to go indoors together during the testing season next spring. Some are already doing so now, since some high school course tests are given at the end of each semester.

“There is a point to testing,” said Kaylen Moore, 16, a Fulton County student who was among the speakers. “However, is that worth my life? Is that worth anyone’s life?”

No, responded the crowd of a few dozen protesters, most of them Black, a racial group that has been particularly hard hit by COVID-19. The protest, organized by a group calling themselves Teachers for Good Trouble, comprised teachers, a handful of students and at least one parent, Rasheedah James.

December 15, 2020 Atlanta -  Participants hold signs during a protest to urge a stop of standardized testing during the COVID-19 pandemic, at Liberty Plaza in Atlanta on Tuesday, December 15, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
December 15, 2020 Atlanta - Participants hold signs during a protest to urge a stop of standardized testing during the COVID-19 pandemic, at Liberty Plaza in Atlanta on Tuesday, December 15, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

James said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the tests are yet another demand on students who are already burdened by the pandemic. Her own daughter, a senior at a Clayton County high school, helps care for her three younger siblings, all toddlers.

“It’s a lot for students,” James said. “It’s a lot for parents.”

Both state School Superintendent Richard Woods and Gov. Brian Kemp agreed, asking U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to waive the federally-required tests for this school year. She released states from the mandate last spring, but declined to do so again.

The federal government requires that 95% of students take the tests. Parents can opt their children out of them, but many don’t realize it. And in high school, the tests count for 20% of the course grade in four courses: Algebra, U.S. history, biology and American literature and composition.

DeVos’ decision prompted Woods to propose reducing the weight of those tests to near zero. The state school board is expected to ratify Woods’ recommended 0.01% test weight on Monday.

Alfred “Shivy” Brooks, one of the organizers of Tuesday’s rally, said he understands why school districts haven’t publicized that parents can opt-out of testing.

“The schools have to press forward,” said Brooks, a high school teacher in Clayton County. “I can’t blame them. However, it’s putting us in danger.”