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GaDOE responds to Milestones concerns: Test is only one piece of information

A column last week by an Atlanta middle school teacher lamenting the ineffectiveness of the new Georgia Milestones test in helping her improve instruction prompted a lot of discussion on the blog, much of it from teachers with similar concerns.

Among the responses to APS teacher Clara Totenberg Green's essay was this comment:

Domains consist of groupings of similar concepts and skills.  The Georgia Milestones Assessment Guides detail exactly which standards are assessed under each domain.  The domain mastery designation of ‘Remediate Learning,’ ‘Monitor Learning,’ and ‘Accelerate Learning’ provides a gauge of the student’s performance in the domain.

Essentially the domain designation answers the question, “What is the likelihood that the student would be proficient if he/she performed on the overall test as he/she did on the items in the domain?” If it is likely the student would have been proficient, the designation is ‘Accelerate Learning.” If it is possible the student would have been proficient, but equally possible the student might not have been proficient – given the standard error of measurement associated with the domain performance – the designation is ‘Monitor Learning.’ If it is unlikely the student would have been proficient, the designation is ‘Remediate Learning.’

To help educators better understand how students performed on the knowledge, concepts, and skills assessed, Achievement Level Descriptors (ALDs) have been developed by Georgia educators. These are important documents in helping make sense of the test scores and interpret both student strengths and weaknesses as well as reflect upon instructional practices.

The ALDs outline, by standard or group of standards, the knowledge and skills students within each Achievement Level (Beginning, Developing, Proficient, or Distinguished) demonstrate. These documents are designed to show the progression of student understanding and skill for the standard or group of standards described. An example from grade 4 mathematics is provided below. Students who achieve each level demonstrate the knowledge and skills within that level, as well as all previous levels.


So, if a student or group of students received a domain designation of ‘Remediate Learning’ in the domain of Numbers and Operations in Base 10, the information in the Achievement Levels for Beginning Learner and Developing Learner describe the types of things the student was able to demonstrate – and then those things further outlined under Proficient Learner and Distinguished Learner describe the things the students was unable to demonstrate.

The educational goal is for students to be on track for college and career readiness as they matriculate – and to achieve that level of readiness upon graduation. Proficient Learner is the achievement level that signifies a student is on track. Domain mastery designations in turn, shed light on the student’s readiness within that particular group of standards. The Achievement Level Descriptors are posted on the Georgia Milestones webpage (reached through, along with several other resources for teachers. Unfortunately, it appears many educators are still unaware of these resources despite GaDOE’s repeated attempts to get them into the hands of teachers.

At the end of the day, Georgia Milestones is a summative measure administered as the school year draws to a close.  All test scores require interpretation and should be considered in light of additional information about the student’s achievement.  No test – including Georgia Milestones – is the sum total of all a student has learned and experienced throughout a school year. Nor is a single test a definitive determinant of a teacher’s instructional prowess. Summative tests, such as Georgia Milestones, sample the knowledge, concepts and skills that students are taught each year and are one piece of information.

The Atlanta teacher who wrote the original blog post used a coaching analogy.  No coach waits until the championship game to evaluate his/her players’ readiness for a game; rather they use practices, scrimmages, and regular season games (analogous to classroom tests) to ensure the players are prepared once they reach the championship game. Likewise, all teachers monitor student learning in a variety of ways throughout the course of the school year to ensure students are learning along the way.




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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.