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Georgia slows down the number of SLOs schools have to give

The state Department of Education sent out a murky release today -- at least to me -- on a reduction in the number of tests next year in Georgia classrooms.

The reduction will be in a set of assessments created to gauge the effectiveness of  teachers who teach courses for which there are no state standardized exams. That's about 70 percent of teachers in Georgia.

Created by each district, these tests are called Student Learning Objectives or SLOs.

Georgia requires teachers be evaluated in large part on the growth their students show in a year.

In courses without a Georgia Milestones or End of Course test, districts had to develop assessments to measure student growth in gym, band, drama, art, chemistry and other untested areas.

Thus, the SLOs were born. Teachers are judged on the progress students show from the SLO pretest at the start of the course and the one administered at the end. The SLOs require a lot of data analysis due to pre- and post-assessment scores.

Teachers complained the SLOs took too much time away from instruction, did not really capture learning and sometimes were just plain dumb.

I called DOE spokesman Matt Cardoza to explain the changes being announced by DOE.

Here is what he told me:

Some teachers teach two courses, one of which has a SLO and one of which has a standardized test.  As an example, Cardoza cited a history teacher who also teaches civics.

Let's call this teacher Ms. Smith. This year, Ms. Smith gave a Georgia Milestones test to her history students and a SLO to her civics class as there is no standardized Georgia civics exam. Now, Ms. Smith and teachers like her will not have to give SLOs since they teach a course for which there is a standardized test.

So, next year, the district will be able to let Ms. Smith and her students skip the civics SLO. (If Ms. Smith only has to test her history students and not her civics class, we may learn whether she's an effective history teacher but won't know anything about her skill in teaching civics. Of course, whether Georgia's state tests actually tell us anything about effective teaching is still unproven.)

Now, let's move to culinary arts. Chef Jones gave SLOs to all five culinary arts classes he taught this year. DOE says next year he can give the test to just one of his five classes.

This means one unhappy class of culinary students will have to take a test their peers in the other four classes do not. True, said Cardoza. And the class that takes the test should be the one with the highest enrollment, he said.

(I wonder whether that single class of culinary students will care much about a test that judges their teacher and not them, especially when they realize no other class is taking the test.)

UPDATE: A poster Tuesday morning asked about elementary school, saying, "Students will still be taking upwards of 6+ SLO tests in early elementary: Reading/ela, Math, Music,, Art, PE, Foreign Language, and any other 'special' they may attend. While this may fox the high school problem, it doesn't fix the elementary problem."

I sent the comment to Cardoza and he responded:

It will be grade specific. The PE teacher, for example, would only give the SLO to one grade, not all. Same goes for the other classes you mention.

In the case of a PE teacher, a growth measure is developed for each grade level.  If a PE teacher teaches grades K-5, they are teaching 6 courses. Say they are in a NONRT3 District and simply need one growth  measure. They would choose the course that has the greatest student enrollment ( say second grade, for example) and that would be their growth measure for that teacher.

Here is the official DOE statement. You all may understand it better than I did:

Beginning with the 2015-2016 school year, students will take fewer tests due to a reduction of Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) required for schools to administer.

“I have always believed that we test our students too much,” State School Superintendent Richard Woods said. “Eliminating some of the Student Learning Objectives is a step toward reducing the overall number of tests given to students, which will give our teachers more time for instruction and help our students focus on learning instead of testing. This change is another step toward a more responsible accountability model.”

For Race to the Top school districts , teachers will only be required to administer two SLOs, where they previously administered up to six SLOs. Non-Race to the Top school districts will administer only one SLO, where they also previously administered up to six SLOs. If teachers in a non-Race to the Top district teach a Milestones course (state standardized test), then they would administer no SLOs.

The SLO Assessment reduction will reduce the amount of testing in all schools and classrooms, and lessen the financial and human resources burden on all districts.

Superintendent Woods added, “We have to get back to the business of personalizing, not standardizing, education for our students, and the fewer standardized tests we have in place, the more our teachers can do what they do best – teach."

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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.