New standardized test, end-of-course exams won’t be used for promotion

Georgia students’ promotion and failure won’t be tied to a new standardized test this school year. State officials have reduced the first-year impact of the $108-million assessment they are pushing to finalize, eight months before it is to be administered for the first time.

In addition, end-of-course tests tied to the new assessment won’t account for 20 percent of a high school student’s final grade, as those tests did in the past.

Lowering the stakes on a new standardized test is not unusual, state officials note, saying that care must be taken to make sure the test is fair and administration procedures are smooth.

The sweeping changes to Georgia’s new test, approved during a recent meeting of the state Board of Education, will affect 375,000 elementary and middle school students and about 900,000 high school students, and they raise questions about the quick switch from the old Criterion-Referenced Competency Test. State officials have said the new test, to be called Georgia Milestones, will require more writing and will be harder to pass.

This year, students in grades three, five and eight won’t have to perform at grade level on the reading portion of the test to be promoted. Fifth- and eighth-graders also won’t have to perform at grade level on the math portion to be promoted.

Students who failed those tests in the past could appeal to local panels, which often approved the students’ promotion, state education department spokesman Matt Cardoza said.

Local school districts are encouraged to develop their own policies to determine which students are promoted and which are held back this school year.

State education officials said they anticipated the need to lower the stakes of the test during its first year. And they say that is wise.

“Taking the time to ensure all protocols and procedures, including standard setting, are in place prior to releasing scores is very common and is always important for new assessment systems,” said Melissa Fincher, associate superintendent for assessment and accountability for the state Department of Education. “Most states experience a delay the first year when implementing a new assessment system. Such a delay is not an indication of a state’s readiness – it is a necessity.”

The CRCT was given for 14 years in Georgia, and some superintendents worry that, with a new and different test, administration procedures haven’t been finalized.

“The state has not yet provided a testing blueprint to school districts,” said Robert Avossa, Fulton County’s superintendent. “Teachers should start the year fully informed, and, without the blueprints, they don’t have complete information to guide their instruction throughout the year.”

Fincher said the state is still working to establish assessment procedures.

“It is important that we take the time necessary to ensure everything is sound given the implications for both students and educators alike,” she said.

The new test will improve over time and will help educators pinpoint areas of student need, said Jonathan Patterson, associate superintendent for curriculum and instructional support in Gwinnett County.

“As with all changes in both instruction and assessment, we anticipate it will take some time to fill any gaps there may be in students’ learning,” Patterson said. “This does not represent a concern about the assessment, just a realization that we will likely see improvements over time.”

Georgia is lowering the stakes on Georgia Milestones this year so state officials can establish what are referred to as ‘cut scores’ — thresholds students must meet to be considered on grade level.

On the CRCT, those thresholds were among the lowest in the country, and large percentages of students were deemed to have fared well on the tests. But on such national tests as the SAT and ACT, Georgia students failed to match national averages.

The federal government has required states to raise the thresholds for success on new assessments, and Georgia is moving in that direction.

For their part, some parents are still getting adjusted to the idea of a new, more rigorous test.

“The rumor out there is that the Georgia Milestones is more rigorous than the CRCT, and, in the first couple years, you’re going to see test scores going down,” said Jen Ranero, co-president of the PTA at Sagamore Hills Elementary School in DeKalb County. “For me, as a special-needs parent, it’s nice because I know he’ll progress. Overall, they made the Georgia Milestones more rigorous, but they’re relaxing the requirements, so it’s a mixed bag.”

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