The new legislation, coming through the Senate, calls for the elimination of five of those seven extra tests: one in fifth grade and the rest in high school.
Advocacy groups for teachers and school administrators helped draft the legislation. That doesn’t mean all teachers support it.
Monica Hardy, an elementary school teacher in Wilkes County, thinks too much time is consumed by testing in elementary school. But she still thinks testing is necessary because subjects that aren’t tested tend to get “pushed to the wayside.”
Instead of fewer tests, Hardy, who teaches fourth and fifth grades, wants them to be shorter. That's what she told Kemp last fall at his teacher listening session in Gwinnett County. She spoke of students who struggled to finish three-hour tests, some moved to tears and questioning their own intelligence when they couldn't.
Kemp’s proposal would shorten the tests somewhat by removing questions used to gauge how students compare against peers nationwide, but Hardy wonders whether that is enough.
“It’s only something like 10 questions, but it’s still better than nothing,” she said.
The legislation would eliminate the fifth grade social studies test and a high school English, math, science and social studies test. (There are currently two in each area, and the Georgia Board of Education would select which to cut.)
That would move Georgia into the middle of the pack for the number of tests, said Adam Tyner, associate director of research at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank.
Georgia has more high school tests than many and that’s a good thing, said Tyner, who has co-authored research that found states with more high school tests had better outcomes on measures such as graduation rates.
While elementary students may not be suited to the high-stakes nature of these tests, he said, high school students should be. “People who are concerned about over-testing have some legitimate points, but those points are most valid in elementary school,” he said.
Testing was popular two decades ago when President George W. Bush ushered in the No Child Left Behind era that was going to hold schools accountable to ever higher standards. The reality in the classroom, where teachers felt so much pressure to do well that they focused on test preparation, angered many parents, though.
That gave rise to movements like Opt Out Georgia, an 8,000-member group that wants an end to testing.
“I’m absolutely thrilled,” said Meg Norris, the former public school teacher who founded the group. Kemp’s legislation is a great first step, she said, adding that high school students suffer consequences from testing.
“I’ve talked to hundreds of parents whose kids lost scholarships because tests destroyed their grade-point average,” she said.
The high school tests currently count for a fifth of students’ course grades. The legislation would not only cut in half the tests but also empower the state education board to decide whether the tests should affect grades.
On the chopping block
Most of the five tests recommended by Gov. Brian Kemp to be cut from Georgia’s curriculum are taken in high school. One of the tests, fifth grade social studies, is taken in elementary school.
There are currently eight mandatory high school tests administered in four core areas. The bill would allow the state school board to cut one test from each core area.
Here are the mandatory high school tests now:
• Coordinate Algebra
• Analytic Geometry
• United States History
• Economics/Business/Free Enterprise
• Physical Science
English Language Arts
• Ninth Grade Literature and Composition
• American Literature and Composition