Legislation that would reduce the number of mandatory tests in Georgia’s public schools has passed a key committee and now awaits scheduling for a vote by the full Senate.
Senate Bill 367 is backed by Gov. Brian Kemp and state School Superintendent Richard Woods, plus the largest education advocacy groups in the state.
“Overwhelmingly, over and over and over, we kept hearing that standardized — high-stakes standardized — testing, continues to be a problem, and it’s just too much in Georgia,” said Sen. P.K. Martin, R-Lawrenceville, chairman of the Senate Education and Youth Committee, explaining why he sponsored the bill.
Organizations for teachers, school boards and school administrators spoke in favor of it before unanimous approval by Martin’s committee Monday.
Even the Department of Juvenile Justice testified in favor. The state agency runs its own schools and an official there testified that each exam consumes about 20 hours of classroom time when accounting for preparation.
The legislation mostly targets high school mandatory tests. There are currently eight: two each in math, English, science and social studies. The bill would reduce that to one test per topic. It would also eliminate the social studies test in fifth grade.
States must comply with a federal mandate to test in 17 subjects in various grades. However, Georgia requires seven more tests than that.
Should SB 367 become law, Georgia will be down to 19 tests, with the two extra for social studies in eighth grade and in high school. (The eighth grade exam is for Georgia history; there are two extra high school social studies tests — for U.S. history and economics, but the legislation would eliminate one of them, requiring the Georgia Board of Education to choose which to keep.)
Despite the appearance of unanimity at Monday’s hearing, there was some concern about cutting tests. They are used for two things: holding teachers and schools accountable and telling parents how their children are performing.
Research suggests that the rigor of teacher grading varies from school to school, and the statewide tests provide a uniform measure, though some question how good that measure is.
Georgia’s standardized tests, called the Milestones, determine how well each student has mastered the skills and knowledge that the state wants them to learn. The tests incorporate questions that allow comparisons to other states. By reducing the number of tests and stripping out those comparison questions, as SB 367 proposes, Georgia’s parents will know less about how their children and their schools compare.
Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, was chairman of the education committee in 2016 when he authored legislation that eliminated eight (social studies and science) tests in elementary and middle school, reducing the number of tests to the current 24.
Tippins said he felt it was necessary at that time to reduce student stress around testing, but he said everyone will face tests in life and they are necessary in schools.
“I do believe that we need a very, very good measure of student achievement,” said Tippins, who still serves on the senate committee and was present for Monday’s vote.
But both Kemp and Woods, the state superintendent, learned how much educators dislike the tests when they toured the state last year. One of their stops was in Gwinnett County, where they heard about teachers quitting and students moved to tears because of them.
J. Alvin Wilbanks, the long-serving superintendent of Gwinnett, told lawmakers Monday that tests are a crucial part of schooling, along with curriculum and teaching, but have become a “dirty word” in schools.
He said he supports SB 367 because he thinks it is a necessary reaction to a testing backlash.
“I don’t know if it will be the best for education,” he said, “but I think it will make a lot of people that are in education very happy.”
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