The proposal to reduce testing in Georgia would eliminate many time-consuming essays, since standardized tests are now taken on computers. Allison Timberlake, deputy state superintendent for testing and accountability, said exam writers can use dragging and dropping, graphing and drop-down menus to test thinking and knowledge that used to be measured exclusively with writing.
Photo: Pelfrey, James (CMG-Atlanta)
Photo: Pelfrey, James (CMG-Atlanta)

Georgia looking at fewer, shorter, different big tests

The new school testing cutbacks being considered by Georgia lawmakers would do more than reduce the number of high-stakes exams.

Gov. Brian Kemp’s proposed rollback of the Georgia Milestones would also make them shorter, change when they are given and remove questions that allow comparisons to students in other states.

Senate Bill 367 builds on a 2016 law that cut the number of standardized state tests to 24 from 32. That is still more than the 17 required by federal law, and Kemp and state School Superintendent Richard Woods say they want to get closer to that minimum.

Most of the extra testing occurs in high school, so that’s what the pair are targeting.

The legislation would cut four of the eight exams given in math, English, science and social studies. There are two for each of those subjects, and the state Board of Education would whittle that to one.

Only one of the five tests to be cut is given before high school: fifth grade social studies. That would leave Georgia with two above the minimum: a social studies exam in eighth grade and another in high school.

In eighth grade social studies, students are taught Georgia history, which explains why state officials want to keep that test. It would be up to the state board to choose between the exams for U.S. history and economics when eliminating one of the two high school social studies tests.

Excepting the social studies exams, Georgia would be at the federal minimum, with one English and math test per year in third grade through middle school plus one of each in high school and one science test in elementary, middle and high school.

The legislation would also make school districts give their elementary and middle school exams in the last five weeks or 25 days of school, a nod to critics who say class time is wasted on television and frivolity in the days or weeks after testing.

And it would shorten the tests, slicing half an hour off the English exams and up to an hour off those for math, science and social studies, said Allison Timberlake, the deputy state superintendent for testing and accountability.

The legislation calls for deleting “norm-referenced” questions that gauge how Georgia students compare with peers in other states. Timberlake said many school districts are already using private norm-referenced tests, such as the Iowa and MAP Growth tests, making those questions redundant.

The state would also eliminate many time-consuming essays. Now that all the tests are on computers, the exam writers can use dragging and dropping, graphing and drop-down menus to test thinking and knowledge that used to be measured exclusively with writing, Timberlake said, though writing will still be part of some tests.

The Georgia Department of Education would also help school districts identify and eliminate local tests, many of which are used to prepare for the Milestones.

A department survey determined that school districts were giving an average of five extra tests, with one giving 18 of them. Elementary school students spent an average of 39 minutes on these extra tests, and middle school students spent 69. High school students spent 10 minutes shy of two hours.

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