Bill to give Georgia students fewer Milestones tests heads to Kemp

Georgia students will see fewer Milestones tests if newly approved legislation becomes law. CONTRIBUTED
Georgia students will see fewer Milestones tests if newly approved legislation becomes law. CONTRIBUTED

Someday, when school returns to normal after the coronavirus is contained, Georgia students will have to start taking standardized state tests again.

But there will likely be fewer of those tests after the unanimous passage Thursday of Senate Bill 367. It eliminates five of the mandatory Milestones tests in public schools, dropping the total required to 19 from the current 24.

The legislation is unfinished business from before the pandemic upended life in Georgia, when testing seemed a more urgent issue.

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Due to the public health emergency, the U.S. Department of Education allowed Georgia and other states to skip high-stakes tests last spring despite their federally mandated role as a school and teacher performance measure. Last week, Gov. Brian Kemp and state school Superintendent Richard Woods announced that they would be seeking another federal waiver for the upcoming school year "given the ongoing challenges posed by the pandemic."

Schools are dealing with budget cuts and the stresses of operating during a pandemic, they said, and it would be “counterproductive” to make them do high-stakes tests.

So the testing cutbacks may not matter until the year after next. Even so, the reduction will likely please teachers and school administrators who complained about the tests when Kemp visited with them during his travels across the state last year.

The legislation mostly targets high school tests, since that’s where most of Georgia’s seven extra tests are; the federal government requires only 17 tests.

SB 367 does away with one elementary school test: social studies in fifth grade. The other four cover math, science, social studies and language arts in high school. There are currently two tests for each of those subjects, but upon Kemp’s signature, there will be one.

Kemp, who had backed the legislation when it was introduced by Sen. P.K. Martin IV, R-Lawrenceville, last winter, applauded the final passage Thursday. He sounded satisfied with recent amendments made by the House of Representatives Education Committee led by Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper.

The House approved the amended bill 151-0 Wednesday. The Senate, which had unanimously approved an earlier version last winter, approved those changes 45-0 Thursday. It reduces “unnecessary burdens” on classrooms “without compromising quality,” Kemp said, adding, “I look forward to signing this legislation pending legal review.”

Woods said it responds to “persistent and urgent concerns” raised by teachers and families “about the negative impacts of excessive high-stakes testing.”

One of the changes by the House adds a requirement that tests in elementary and middle school be given within 25 school days of summer break. The intent is to maximize teaching days, since time after testing is often given over to playgrounds and television. There is also a new requirement that the Georgia Department of Education publish a report each year that uses “aggregated data” from schools to compare the academic performance of students in Georgia against that of students in other states.

“That’s just a good add that we … should have done many, many years ago,” Jasperse said at the hearing where the amendment was added last week.

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