Fulton schools drop one widely used national test

Fulton County Schools has dropped a national test. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM
Fulton County Schools has dropped a national test. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Fulton County Schools has dropped a national test taken by roughly 20,000 students.

The district's third, fifth and eighth graders typically take the Iowa Assessment, but during this year's testing period, in October, they were besieged by technology problems.

Glitches with the online platform prompted the district to stop Iowa testing last month, and the school board recently voted unanimously to discontinue use of the test going forward.

“Little did we know a month ago when our vendor failed us on this year’s Iowa tests that we would be here today,” said board member Katha Stuart at a Nov. 21 meeting. “What I’ve heard loud and clear is that people are excited about getting those instructional hours back into the day.”

Principals reported that an average of 14 hours of instructional time is lost due to giving the tests. That includes time for preparation, class transitions and administration of the tests.

Fulton used the test to help determine students’ eligibility for talented and gifted programs and to place them into accelerated classes. There are other ways to accomplish those tasks, including administering a different test to specific students if needed, said Chief Academic Officer Cliff Jones.

The Iowa test is also a “nationally normed” assessment, meaning parents and educators can compare a student’s score to others across the country to get an idea of how that student compares.

Some board members are interested in a test that provides that national context. Superintendent Mike Looney told the board the district is working on an overall testing plan.

“We lack a comprehensive assessment strategy, and we need that,” he said.

The Iowa tests aren't mandated by the state, unlike the Georgia Milestones, which aim to measure how well students have learned what the state says students should know in various subjects.

Research by Fulton officials found that a handful of metro Atlanta districts use the Iowa, several on an as-needed basis for referring students to gifted programs.

For some parents, seeing where their child fits in nationally using the Iowa was about "accountability" and providing a "validation point" since the Milestones tell parents how a child is doing "based on a Georgia perspective," said Jones.

“I think there’s been apprehension about the Georgia standards as far as where Georgia is … in terms of the national landscape,” he said.

In high school, parents can get an idea of how their child is performing nationally using results from Advanced Placement tests and the ACT and SAT college-admissions exams. But that doesn’t apply to younger students.

The district’s task will be to figure out what assessment will provide the most helpful information to parents and educators. One idea is to start using the Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP, test, taken by students across the nation.

Several board members said their constituents have expressed interest in the MAP, though Linda McCain said her community “was not necessarily clamoring for an additional test unless the test can be instead of the state test.”

The state is allowing some districts to try out other tests as a potential alternative to the Milestones, and Looney said Fulton will monitor those efforts.

“My hope is that it will be validated, and the MAP could be used instead of the Milestones assessment,” he said.

Fulton has said the cost to administer the Iowa test for the year was to be $388,542. A district spokesman said the school system paid the vendor only $548 for training expenses and does not intend to pay the full contracted amount because of the testing failures.

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