Marietta City Schools and the Cobb County District are among the Georgia systems applying to substitute their own tests for the mandatory state standardized tests, known as the Milestones. AJC file photo
Photo: For the AJC
Photo: For the AJC

Testing: School districts petition for alternatives to Georgia Milestones

Nearly two dozen Georgia school districts are hoping to escape the state’s mandatory standardized testing requirement by substituting their own exams.

Among the 22 school systems petitioning the Georgia Board of Education, are several in metro Atlanta, including Marietta City Schools and Clayton, Cobb, Fayette and Newton counties.

They’re hoping to exploit a new state law that allows up to 10 “innovative” testing pilot programs.

The law, pased this year as Senate Bill 362, addresses educator frustration with the standardized tests, known as the Georgia Milestones. The Georgia Department of Education releases the scores after the school year, so teachers complain they can’t use the data to determine which students need extra help.

“We need real-time information to help our teachers,” Putnam County School District Superintendent Eric Arena said last winter, when his district was leading the push for the bill in legislative hearings.

Putnam, which applied for participation with the state education board last month, is leading nine other districts in a consortium that wants to use a test developed by a company called Navvy Education.

This week, at state board meetings on Wednesday and Thursday, another dozen districts will attempt to join the program: Cobb and Newton counties are applying on their own; Marietta and Clayton are applying as part of another 10-district consortium, the Georgia MAP Assessment Partnership.

Cobb will use a homegrown test called Cobb Metrics, hiring an expert to determine “comparability” with the Milestones. Newton would use several nationally available private exams, including the Iowa Assessments and the Cognitive Abilities Test. The Georgia MAP consortium will use the MAP test, another well-known private exam created by NWEA, a multinational education organization. 

Supporters of state tests say they are essential for monitoring school performance, acting as a check on grade inflation. But state tests have become a target of critics, and Congress opened up the possibility for alternatives when it rewrote federal education law in 2015. Last week, the U.S. Department of Education published its rules for approval of alternative testing programs.

Georgia would have to file a successful application with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos before any of the 22 districts could participate.

Here are the petitioning districts and their plans:

  1. The Putnam County consortium comprises Calhoun City and Putnam, Dougherty, Evans, Fayette, Floyd, Liberty, McIntosh, Oglethorpe and Pike counties. Putnam hopes to use its Navvy tests this school year; the other nine districts would follow later.
  2. Cobb County would start using its Cobb Metrics tests this school year.
  3. Newton County would start using a variety of nationally available tests this school year.
  4. Ten school districts in the Georgia MAP Assessment Partnership would use the nationally-available MAP test, with Marietta City and Clayton, Floyd, Jackson, Jasper and Polk counties starting this school year and Dalton and Trion cities and Gilmer and Haralson counties following later.

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