State school officials say Georgia will follow federal law but that they plan to act to alleviate the pressure of high-stakes testing.
Last week, State School Superintendent Richard Woods released a list of immediate actions and recommendations in response to a Sept. 3 announcement by the U.S. Department of Education that it would not consider testing waivers for the 2020-21 school year.
“I remain disappointed and disheartened by the federal directive to administer high-stakes tests in a pandemic,” Woods said. “Georgia will abide by federal law, but we are not going to layer additional stress and burden onto our students and teachers during this time. In this environment, these tests are not valid or reliable measures of academic progress or achievement, and we are taking all possible steps at the state level to reduce their high-stakes impact.”
Immediate actions will include:
• Recommending lowering the 20 percent End Of Course course grade weight. At the Oct. 1 State Board of Education meeting, Woods will recommend that the grade weight be lowered to 0.01 percent – the lowest percentage possible, because state law prohibits zero percent.
• Waiving promotion and retention consequences tied to Georgia Milestones. Effective immediately, it is the official directive of the Georgia Department of Education that school districts with flexibility contracts (Charter Systems or Strategic Waiver School Systems) use input from teachers and parents, placement committees, class performance and formative tools to determine the need to promote or retain their students at the end of the 2020-21 school year. Student promotion/retention decisions should not be based on 2020-21 performance on the Georgia Milestones tests.
• Providing flexible options for administering the 2020 winter EOC assessments. Districts are given the flexibility to assess students during the winter mid-month or spring administration windows, as needed, to ensure a more appropriate amount of instructional time is available prior to the administration of the EOC. Districts can also request extending their local testing window later in the school day to include afternoon and evening testing sessions and/or utilize a compressed testing schedule due to the updated Georgia Milestones test design, which includes a significant decrease in student testing time.
Georgia was the first state in the nation to announce its intent to apply for a waiver of standardized testing requirements in 2020-21. While the U.S. Department of Education denied this request, the GaDOE has announced it will again “aggressively” pursue testing waivers if another opportunity becomes available.
“The pursuit of common sense assessment waivers during the COVID-19 pandemic is part of a broader effort in Georgia to pull back excessive high-stakes testing and accountability requirements that place an undue burden on the classroom and make it more difficult for teachers to teach and students to learn,” stated a release from the GaDOE. “Previous efforts include getting Georgia standardized testing requirements in line with the federal minimum through Senate Bill 367; the elimination of double-testing for AP, IB and dual enrollment students; and the pursuit of the maximum flexibility allowable under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.”
To ensure districts have the tools to gauge student learning and potential learning loss as a result of the pandemic, the GaDOE will provide access to BEACON, a formative assessment tool, to every Georgia school district at no cost.
Formative assessments are diagnostic and non-high-stakes and are designed to monitor student learning and plan instruction, rather than to report out results for accountability purposes. Use of BEACON is not required but will allow districts to assess student performance and identify gaps as a result of the COVID-19 school closures, according to the GaDOE’s release.