Matt Jones, chief of staff for the Georgia Department of Education, gave an update about Georgia public schools during the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education annual media symposium Friday.
Jones said since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the GaDOE has focused on compassion over compliance.
“That’s really been the mantra that the superintendent has promoted and embraced, and the department as well,” Jones said.
Jones said they’ve worked with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency to distribute needed supplies, including face coverings, hand sanitizer and thermometers, to every school district in the state.
“We do know since March, given the unprecedented times and the different instructional models that have been taking place in our state, we know there is learning loss,” Jones said.
Jones said they have trained more than 15,000 teachers on virtual learning, and doubled the capacity of the Georgia Virtual School.
He said they’ve also worked to expand connectivity, deploying 3,000 school bus WiFi rangers to districts across the state. He said the GaDOE has also used CARES Act funding to ensure all schools have broadband signal extenders from school buildings.
Jones said the mental and physical health of students has also been critically important. School districts throughout Georgia have served more than 111 million meals to students since March. He said they’ve also issued guidance on student and staff mental health and wellness.
“The biggest issue that we’ve heard, besides just the trauma of this experience, has been the added stress around high stakes testing and hyper accountability,” Jones said.
Jones said they’ve done everything possible to minimize the focus on assessments so schools can focus on dealing with the impacts of the pandemic.
He said in March 2020, Georgia was one of the first states to suspend high stakes testing. At the end of this past school year, Jones said the GaDOE submitted a testing and accountability waiver for the current school year, which was denied by former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
Jones said they do plan on re-submitting the waiver request.
“We really stand by our decision and our direction that this is the right thing to do right now,” Jones said.
He said when they received the response from DeVos about the waiver request, State School Superintendent Richard Woods announced a series of actions to reduce the impact of the tests.
The weight of the End-of-Course assessments for high school students was reduced, milestone assessments weren’t required for making promotion/retention decisions, and the state offered schools flexible administration options for the test.
Jones said the following are some of the legislative priorities for education in 2021:
- Supporting the creation of diploma pathways.
- Advocate for federal legislation to allow grade-band testing, setting a new federal testing minimum.
- Teacher Pipeline legislation, including removal of certification loss as punishment for developing teachers.
- Coordinating connectivity efforts across state agencies and developing a “21st century standard of learning for every classroom across the state.”