Response to today’s conversation

Commenters on the AJC Get Schooled blog discussed the poor performance of students on the first round of the new Georgia Milestones exams, which are aligned to higher academic standards. Fewer than 40 percent of students in Georgia scored at a high enough level in reading and math to be deemed fully proficient. Here is a sampling of reader comments:

BCW: When schools have been used to being in the 90th percentile and all of a sudden they are in the 50th, this is a huge change.

Teacher: The 2014-15 scores should be considered with a huge dose of skepticism because many students knew the tests would not affect their grades. In the past, the End of Course Tests counted as a student's final exam grade — 15 to 20 percent, depending on the year. This year's results will also count, a mandated 20 percent of the student's overall average. But because last year was the first year of the Georgia Milestones test (and because the state Department of Education knew it had done an inadequate job releasing training materials and practice questions to teachers), the state told us in advance the scores would not be used when calculating a student's course grade. Instead, after taking the state standardized test, students were required to take an additional final exam written by the local teacher. Many students, of course, tried their best on both tests. But others, after discovering the state test wouldn't affect their grades, didn't spend much time preparing for a test that was, from their perspective, meaningless. The data is impossible to disentangle. How are we supposed to know which students are legitimately ignorant vs. the students who simply Christmas-treed the test because they knew it didn't affect their GPAs?

Looking: Why be honest when the parents don't want honesty? If the kids aren't learning, it's not their fault, nor the fault of their child. It is the teachers and the schools. It's as simple as that.

ScienceTeacher: We have no idea what sorts of questions are being asked on these tests or how to prepare our students. A practice test would be nice. Also, those of us on block schedules will be halfway through this term (which counts) before we find out how our students did last year and what they excelled at or bombed.

Living: No surprise here. Whenever you raise the bar, you usually start with a lower baseline. Now the challenge will be whether our schools can raise proficiency to levels we can all be proud of, and indicate our children will be prepared for college and careers.

AnotherTeacher: The old CRCT and EOCT were ridiculously curved. I teach economics. Students who were not particularly strong would end up with very respectable final exam scores. But even with those old, pathetic standards, 18.8 percent of students didn't pass the economics EOCT in the spring of 2014. I'm glad they are raising the score required to be considered proficient, because it will be a more honest measurement. It will more clearly demonstrate what has always been true: Tons of students know very little about the subjects they are supposedly studying.