Milestones test maker fails first test

A University of Georgia math education graduate student, Zachary Kroll teaches middle school math in Athens.

The purpose of standardized testing is to ensure everyone in the public education system is taught to the same level of rigor. Unfortunately, we have moved far away from this idea and are now testing for the sake of testing.

Teachers are being forced to move away from teaching life skills, such as critical thinking and problem solving. They are now required to shoot through as much material as they possibly can within an absurdly short period. This has changed the school environment from a friendly, exciting and caring one to a more stressful, anxious and less happy place for people to come to each day.

And some of that new stress is the fault of the Georgia Milestones tests. CTB/McGraw-Hill was awarded a five-year, $107.8 million contract to design and administer the Milestones exams. With this came the expectation the state of Georgia would receive the most effective and efficient testing programs available today.

On the company’s website, it promises by 2019, all of Georgia’s testing will be done online. This is a wonderful goal — as long as the company can pledge it is going to work for every student taking these tests.

During this school year, we wasted numerous class periods testing the system, making sure our students could log in, and checking to make sure the technology would work when we need it most. This has taken valuable days away from our teachers, administration, media specialists and, most importantly, our students. These days could have been spent learning.

As educators, we try to instill in our students a sense of pride, self-efficacy and responsibility. It is our hope when our students move on from our classrooms, they feel better about themselves and trust the work they did was their very best.

I want CTB/McGraw-Hill, especially those in charge, to question whether they’ve done their absolute best in designing this program and software. Did the designers and employees put forth their best effort? Did they make sure there was nothing else that could be done to guarantee Georgia teachers and students would not have any issues on testing days?

Based on my experience over the course of the last several months, and especially the two weeks of testing, the answer is a resounding no!

If it were yes, then test administrators, hallway monitors and other school faculty would not have been running around all morning fixing computers that were unable to get into the test. We would not have spent 30 or more minutes of the test period dealing with a system that would not load, a program that froze, or a computer that was working fine until a student logged onto the system. If the testing went as promised, we would not have had students with accommodations being forced to restart their exams multiple times.

Testing is a stressful time for every party involved, and it is CTB/McGraw-Hill’s responsibility to make certain the one thing that does not add to that stress is a software or program error. Because of this, Georgia ought to renegotiate the contract, and CTB/McGraw-Hill should return $21,560,000 to the state. This is one-fifth of the amount of the contract, and I think it is fair to say the company did not earn it this year.

The wonderful thing about this, though, is there is always next year. I encourage CTB/McGraw-Hill to take the summer and determine if their software is best for our students. If it is not, then find a way to make it better. At the end of the day, our No. 1 priority is to give our students the best opportunities to learn.