Georgia isn’t retreating from rigor

John Barge is Georgia’s state school superintendent.

Last week, Georgia formally withdrew from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers consortium to pursue better options for our state. Some have asked if this is a retreat from our standards or from a rigorous test to measure how well our students are performing. The answer to that is, absolutely not.

While Georgia will be pursuing other options for developing its own state assessments in English language arts and math at the elementary, middle and high school levels, these tests will be very similar to what the PARCC tests will be like. The same level of difficulty and complexity will be reflected in our new tests as in the PARCC tests.

Our new tests will not look like our current Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests and End-of-Course Tests, where we know the level of expectations must be increased. Case in point: Our new Coordinate Algebra EOCT results showed a much lower passage rate this year than we are accustomed to seeing on other EOCTs. That happened because what was expected of students to pass was increased to be more in line with what expectations will be on the new PARCC tests and, simply, the test was much more complex.

In an ideal world, there would be a single testing measure to compare our students to those in other states. Unfortunately, there isn’t a single test that can accomplish this. At this point, only 20 states will be administering the PARCC assessment. Without having all 50 states administering a single test to the same number of students, it is impossible to make an exact comparison of student performance.

Our participation in PARCC thus far has been extremely valuable in learning what all new assessments will have to look like. We have not spent any money being part of PARCC because its work has been funded by a grant. Our hope by participating in the consortium was to be able to have impactful discussions around flexibility in administering these tests so we might be able to participate in a way that made sense for us.

The primary reason we withdrew from PARCC was that we couldn’t afford it. We couldn’t justify more than doubling our state assessment budget before restoring more money to the classroom. Now that we have formally withdrawn, our next step will be to work with Georgia educators, including the university and technical college systems — as we have in the past — and, more than likely, with other states that have proven records of education success, to design an assessment that is affordable and also reflects the instructional focus and expectations inherent in our rigorous state standards in English language arts and math.

Another reason for withdrawing from PARCC was the amount of time students would spend taking these tests. Based on current estimates, PARCC anticipates up to 10 hours of total testing time in English language arts and mathematics alone. With two-thirds of our school districts in the state in school less than 180 days a year due to budget cuts, it just doesn’t make sense to take even more instructional time away from students to devote to testing. In all likelihood, students would not have had enough instructional time to learn the tested material.

It is my opinion that we already test our students too much, so I don’t favor taking more time out of the instructional day for testing. If the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act allowed for it, I would have our students taking tests in certain key grades rather than in grades 3-8 and in high school. I think that is too much focus on a test, when there is so much more to educating a child than the outcome of a test. However, as long as we are required to give these tests, I am going to make sure our tests are as rigorous as those in any other state and ensure that our students are held to the highest standards.

Our students deserve to receive the same quality and rigor of education as any other student in the country. Georgians should feel confident that our new assessments will not be a retreat from rigor, but rather a financial reality.

I can’t in good conscience ask taxpayers to add approximately $26 million to our assessment budget while we still have two-thirds of our schools in session less than 180 days, entire school districts facing insolvency and teachers still being furloughed. To accept the additional financial burden from the PARCC assessments would be a slap in the face to all Georgians.

John Barge is Georgia’s state school superintendent.

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