The Georgia Department of Education is rolling out new statewide tests this year in an effort to add more “rigor” in the evaluation of schools and students.

“We need to know that students are being prepared, not at a minimum-competency level but with rigorous, relevant education, to enter college, the workforce or the military at a level that makes them competitive with students from other states,” Georgia School Superintendent Dr. John Barge said earlier this year when the announcement was made.

One parent with children in the Atlanta Public Schools system said that while she didn’t know much specifically about the new tests, that teachers in Buckhead public schools have been preparing the students for them.

“I know they’re supposed to be higher rigor,” said Sara Catherine Kibler, who has a ninth-grader at North Atlanta High School, a sixth-grader at Sutton Middle School and a child who recently graduated from North Atlanta. “I expect to see drops in scores; I don’t necessarily expect them to be super at first. But I know the teachers have been changing their curriculums for several years to prepare.”

The new tests, called Milestones, this year will replace the End of Course Tests, or EOCT, and the Criterian Referenced Competency Tests, or CRCTs, now used in Georgia public schools. The new tests will be aligned to Common Core standards, state officials said. The state claims that a benefit of the new testing system is that it provides one consistent measure across grades 3-12, whereas previously, students took a series of individual tests.

Barge warned that parents should expect lower scores this year due to the increased expectations embodied in the new tests. However, this year the tests will have no bearing on whether or not students are held back, the state board recently announced.

Robert Avossa, Fulton Schools superintendent, said he welcomes the higher challenges the new test will bring.

“We’re anticipating a dip in academic outcomes, but y’all have heard me say this before, it’s the right thing to do,” Avossa said during a back-to-school news briefing in August. “We need to raise the bar.”

With Georgia having one of the lowest scores in the nation, he said, “we’ve got to make sure we tell parents how their kids are truly doing.”

Kibler said that standardized tests should hold students and teachers accountable. “We keep complaining that Georgia has low national standards for education, then we start complaining when we want to hold children accountable,” she said.

Avossa did express concern that schools may not be able to adequately prepare students for the new tests, and that the changes the state has made in the past have often left districts scrambling.

To help parents prepare their children, the DeKalb school system was planning to hold an interactive workshop to gain a better understanding of the tests.

The new testing system will include open-ended questions — to better gauge students’ content mastery, the school system says. The plans are for the tests to be administered entirely online in five years.

The state of Georgia awarded a bid on May 28 for a $107.8-million, five-year contract to CTB/McGraw-Hill to develop the new testing system.

The state education department also said it would provide in-depth information on student progress through an online tool called the Georgia Student Growth Model, found at www.gastudentgrowth.gadoe.org.

“Historically, Georgia’s assessment system has only enabled us to ask certain questions: ‘What percentage of students met the state standard?’ for example, or, ‘Did more students meet the state standard this year compared to last year?’ the DOE said.

“The [new model] will allow all stakeholders to take a deeper look at student growth by school and school district, asking questions such as, ‘Did students in this school grow more or less than academically similar students across the state? or, ‘Are students growing as much in math as in reading?’”

Users can search student-growth data by district, grade, assessment and subject area. Parents and teachers will be able to view reports for their specific students.

Results from the growth model will be used in the College and Career Ready Performance Index.

“They’re pretty complicated to understand,” Avossa said, “but we want to make sure . . . all kids are growing at least one year in one year’s time [and] we can begin to close the gap that exists in some of our schools.”

Ann Marie Quill

Ann Marie Quill is Associate Editor at Reporter Newspapers.

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