Testing and teacher evaluation bills could change Georgia schools

Two test-related education bills got separate hearings in state House and Senate committees Wednesday, with one advancing.

Senate Bill 355 by William T. Ligon, Jr., R-Brunswick, got voted out of the Senate Education and Youth committee after major amendments. The bill initially targeted the use of tests in teacher evaluations, but that part was deleted. Now, it only addresses the right of parents to refuse to allow their children to take the standardized tests, with guarantees that students who opt out won’t be punished or forced to “sit and stare” at their desks while their peers take the exams.

Parent Lisa Farmer guffawed when a Georgia Department of Education official testified that the state already has policies barring punishment of children who refuse the test.

“There may be a policy,” she said after the hearing, “but nobody’s enforcing that policy.” The Hall County mother said her daughter was idled for hours at her desk last year, prohibited from reading or any other diversion, when she refused to take a test.

Later, in the other chamber, House Bill 1061 by Rep. Tom Dickson, R-Cohutta, got a hearing but no vote. The bill, like Senate Bill 364, which is expected to hit the Senate floor by Friday, targets the teacher evaluation system. Currently, student test results inform at least half of each teacher’s evaluation, but both bills reduce that to 30 percent. It’s a response to a teacher outcry about being judged by things they cannot control, such as students who don’t attend school regularly yet still are tested.

Dickson’s proposal will not be in play unless the Education committee holds an emergency meeting for a vote on his bill, or the language is appended to another bill that can cross to the Senate by Monday, the deadline for legislation from each chamber to reach the other.

Even so, Dickson’s bill is staking out a policy position. Unlike SB 364, it does not try to reduce the number of tests given.

Assuming SB 364 gets an affirmative vote on the Senate floor by Monday, it will reach the House Education committee, where Chairman Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth, is promising a “major hearing” lasting several hours. The Senate idea of cutting back the number of tests will likely be a central topic.

“We’ll have a lot of discussion about the testing part of it,” Dickson said.

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