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Between playoff games and state exams, are student athletes juggling too many balls?

A parent sent me a note earlier this week on a testing issue I'd never considered or written about -- the overlap of state testing with playoff games in spring sports. I told the mom I planned to share her essay later in the week on the blog.

Interestingly, my son experienced the scenario she described today. His high school tennis team traveled five hours to south Georgia Monday night for a state playoff Tuesday. Because of a serious accident on I-285 that halted traffic for hours, the team bus did not arrive back home until 2:30 a.m. My son and several other players faced a math SLO a few hours later..

I'm unsure what the answer is. Playing a sport is a choice that bring both benefits and burdens. I can remember my brother, a standout high school player who went on to captain a Division 1 college team, getting home from high school games at midnight and staying up all night to study. In college, he did two things: play ball and study.

I understand end-of-the-year school events -- sports banquets, award ceremonies, class picnics  -- create family stress when combined with testing demands. Schools ought to prune back their April and May events calendars to make the end-of-the-year less frantic.

With that said, here's the parent’s essay. I am sharing it with her blessing. She offers some good ideas on using other tests to exempt students from some state exams:

The Milestones calendar has come out for my son’s high school.  Milestones finals are held the last week in April and the first week in May. Students will be taking finals three or four weeks before the end of school. Because my son takes two of his courses virtually and the GA Virtual School ends May 5, he will actually have four of his six finals completed by May 5, yet have three more weeks of school.

Early Milestones finals hurt student athletes in playoffs. During those Milestones weeks, students could have two playoff matches a week. Playoffs in my son’s sport do not end until May 8. If the playoff is an away game, students could be traveling in a car for an hour or two, play a couple of hours, and then ride home with a final early the next morning.

Even with the best intentions, students are not getting much if any studying done in a car or busload of boys. If this testing calendar remains the same, the Georgia High School Association may need to move its playoff calendar forward, eliminate regional playoffs for state playoff selection, and just use round robin region results for state playoff selection to shave a week off playoff calendar.

Many students will have AP tests the week following or the same week as Milestones testing. How can they review for AP test with a crazy schedule the two weeks before? It is ridiculous to have 10 days of an improvised schedule with some classes not meeting at all some days and then to have 3 days of finals the last week of school too.

School should allow a minimum ACT or SAT score to substitute for the 9th and 11th grade Lit Milestones and the two Math Milestones. Then students could take their Lit and Math final exams the last three days of school after playoffs and after APs. Students would have multiple chances to take SAT and ACT plus they could pick dates that fit their schedule. If they were an athlete, they could choose a date where they could study in the off season of their sport.

Since Georgia teaches integrated math that incorporates geometry, algebra, and probability, the Milestones tests and math curriculum are often out of sync. If a student takes an accelerated math course, his Milestones test may be based on material he/she took a semester or two ago.

If the student has been studying Trig all semester but the Milestones is mainly algebra, the student may do poorly on a Milestones final because the student does not have time to relearn materials he/she may not have seen for six months or more while keeping up with current topics. This is the third year my son has been in playoffs during Milestones/EOCTs.

I am glad he does not have a Math Milestones this year. He barely passed his Math Milestones/EOCTs even though he had high As in honors courses because the test curriculum and class curriculum were out of sync, and both years he had out-of-county state playoffs the night before the test. Luckily his freshman year the test only counted 15 percent so he still made an A in the class with a 70 on the final as he did not have time to go back and review past year material.

Students take the PSAT in Oct of their freshman, sophomore, and junior years. Between that test and another SAT/ACT test of a student’s choosing, that should be enough for the state of Georgia. If the College Board says a student is ready for college, why does a student have to go through 10 days of testing and messed up schedules for four years? Obviously some students at all schools and many students at other schools may do poorly on SAT and ACT. However, schools where most students do well on PSAT, ACT, or SAT should get waivers from the whole Milestones system of testing.

I assume you may write articles on the Milestones tests in the next week or so (Milestones start next Monday). I do not know if any of the discussions have ever addressed the impact it has on student athletes in spring sports. Most athletes would prefer to play matches during the week after school where their classmates could attend.

Spring playoffs may not seem important, but student athletes may use their sport as a route to college admission and/or scholarship. For many sports, students play on varsity teams during the week and club and/or individual tournaments during the weekend.  If finals are only the last three days of school, students can adjust their training schedule accordingly. However, student athletes can’t forego training or drills for weeks of tests.


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.