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Some parents refuse to allow their children to take state exams

The final scheduled day of the statewide Georgia Milestones exams is approaching, but at least 200 metro Atlanta students did not take them.

Their parents filed paperwork refusing to allow them to take the tests, which are in their second year of use. Despite state and local efforts that stress the importance of the exams as a reliable way to measure student proficiency, many parents are still skeptical about their credibility.

“It’s not a valid test,” said Keith Kirk, who refused to allow his daughter, a fifth-grader in the Gwinnett school system, to take the Milestones. “It’s never been validated. It doesn’t tell teachers anything about a child’s strengths and weaknesses.”

The Milestones measures student performance in math, science, social studies and English/Language Arts in grades 3 through 8. High school students take assessments in 10 courses, such as biology and U.S. History.

Across the nation, a movement has grown to opt children out of standardized tests — in New York last year, one-fifth of students in third to eighth grade did not take math and reading tests, The New York Times reported — but the movement has not caught fire in Georgia. And some parents and teachers have complained about various testing glitches with this year’s Georgia Milestones.

Sixty Gwinnett students opted out this year, a district official told school board members last week. Last year, 40 Gwinnett students opted out. Gwinnett has more than 176,000 students.

Fulton County was far ahead of other metro districts last year. Parents removed 909 of its 95,000 students from the exams, a district spokeswoman said. As of Thursday, the total was 145 exempted students.

Two dozen DeKalb students were not taking the exams as of last week. A Cobb school spokeswoman said the district did not have data of how many students opted out.

State education officials said nearly 4,300 exams were not taken by Georgia students last year. They did not have data for this year.

Some Georgia high school students say they’re reluctant not to take Milestones because it counts 20 percent toward their final grades. As Jordyn Seybolt, a junior at Lakeside High School in DeKalb, wrote in an op-ed for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “So, if I refused to take the American Literature End of Course test, I presume the state would give me a zero for that percentage, dropping my grade significantly.”

School officials note the percentage of local parents have refused to let their children take the Milestones is small. Many national opt-out leaders and activists deride these tests as part of a Common Core curriculum or complain that it adds to another problem in public education — too much testing, which takes time away from teaching and learning.

Last year’s Milestones scores did not count against a student’s final grade. This year, third-, fifth- and eighth-grade students who take the exams must score above a certain level to move to the next grade. State officials expect students to fare better on this year’s exams.

Some parents interviewed pointed to the Iowa Test of Basic Skills as a better measure of student proficiency, in part because they say the Milestones has open-ended questions that are subject to interpretation.

Gwinnett resident Kellie Phillips said she’s talked to several teachers who tell her there are too many tests, one reason she refused to allow her son to take this year’s Milestones.

“The teachers can’t be creative and do the things they want to do because they’re focusing on preparing them for the tests,” she said.

Her son, whom she said is a straight-A student in the fifth-grade, was stressed last year when he took the exams. Phillips said her son is working on a class project in his school’s computer lab rather than take the Milestones.

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