Parkview High School seniors Adam Lux (left) and Jacob Bowerman speak to members of the Gwinnett County Public School board during a meeting in Suwanee, Thursday, March 21, 2019. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

High school students in tougher courses get break on state tests

In a move that state officials say could eliminate 58,000 tests in Georgia high schools, the state education board on Thursday voted to waive exam requirements for successful students in rigorous courses.

Starting this school year, students who pass an Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate course won’t have to take the Georgia Milestones test for the subject, except for some freshman courses.

Due to federal testing mandates, AP and IB students in ninth grade literature and composition, Algebra 1, coordinate Algebra and biology won’t escape the testing mandate.

The move was backed by Gov. Brian Kemp, who sent a letter to the Georgia Board of Education in August supporting it.

“This proposal is a simple, reasonable solution to reduce burdensome and costly double-testing for advanced courses in Georgia high schools without compromising accountability in classrooms,” his letter said.

State school Superintendent Richard Woods said in a written statement that it was a step toward “more reasonable, student-focused testing in Georgia — and getting our testing requirements in line with the federal minimum. ... When a student passes a course at the advanced level of AP or IB, we know they’re prepared to move forward.”

Both Kemp and Woods have traveled the state to hear from teachers, who informed them that Georgia’s emphasis on testing is taking over classrooms, driving away teachers and making students ill with stress. 

Students in Gwinnett County have complained to their school board that preparation in class robs their teachers of the time to teach “you want the county thinks you should know.” District officials told the students their hands were tied by state requirements.

It’s not a sentiment unique to Georgia. A 2015 survey by the Center on Education Policy, based at George Washington University, found 81% percent of teachers believed their students spend too much time taking tests mandated by their state or district and said teachers estimate spending 14 days preparing students for state-mandated exams, and 12 days for district-mandated exams.

In 2016, state lawmakers reduced the number of mandatory standardized tests from 32 to 24, eliminating the science and social studies exams from third, fourth, sixth and seventh grades. That is still above the 17 required by federal law, though, with most of the surplus exams in high school.

The state then eliminated the testing requirement for students who are dual enrolled in many college courses. Lawmakers also set the table for a pilot program that would merge year-end accountability tests with the periodic tests that school districts give as teaching aids.

Two groups comprising 21 Georgia school districts have tentative federal approval to substitute their own homemade tests for the state standardized tests.

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