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Should Milestones tests be treated as a practice round? Or, is it too late to retreat?


Should scores from the 2015-2016 End of Course Milestones high school tests -- many of which are still not back to schools -- count toward student grades?

Or should this tumultuous year be viewed as a practice round?

Georgia administers EOCs in 10 high school classes. The state requires these tests -- which are neither created nor graded by classroom teachers -- to count for 20 percent of a student's final course grade. The courses are Ninth Grade Literature & Composition, Analytic Geometry, United States History, American Literature & Composition, Geometry, Economics, Algebra I, Biology, Coordinate Algebra and Physical Science.

The 2014-2015 school year marked the rollout of the new Milestones EOCs, so scores did not count in student grades. The scores do count this year despite computer glitches in the online administration in some schools.

Now, statewide delays have occurred in the grading of the EOCs by the hired contractor. Many schools closed their doors for the summer without receiving results, which means thousands of students have "Incompletes" on their report cards.

As one parent wrote last week, "It is the last day of post planning and the teachers are going home. The math teacher had her last day yesterday. We still are missing scores for the math and English EOC. My school is under major construction all summer. Does this mean my son's grades will be incomplete until fall?"

While an argument exists to treat this year's Milestones as a practice round, such a decision could cause a backlash. Consider what one teacher said about the prospect of throwing out EOC scores:

As far as the EOCs go, there are many students in high schools on 4x4 block schedules who took their tests in the fall, and had them count. I'm not sure tossing them for the spring takers would be very fair. I had several students who were failing and ended up with a passing grade after their EOC was added -- I'm sure they want their scores to stay exactly the same!

This isn't in support of the DOE and the Milestones mess; I just want to remind people it wasn't bad for everyone. I had no technical issues and my scores were back in a couple of days (honestly, I was shocked). However, my test was only multiple choice. Maybe this is an indicator that the grading period for the constructed response questions was way too optimistic. Maybe EOCs need to be multiple choice only.

A DeKalb teacher noted:

I don't see how the state and school districts are going to handle this. As invalid as these scores may be, those students and parents who have already seen scores and increased grade averages aren't going to be pleased if those grades now change for the worse. Similarly, those students and parents who see their children's grades drop because of these questionable scores aren't going to be satisfied that this lower grade is accurate. My guess is that, as is always the case in Georgia's public schools, we teachers will be cleaning up this mess in the fall.

Here is a problem with the EOCs. No one -- not teachers, students or parents -- gets to see them. They only see the results. Yes, that happens with AP exams and the SAT and ACT, but those national standardized tests do not typically play any role in a student's final grade in a course. Those scores don’t override a teacher’s judgment or negate a student’s efforts in a class.

Some relevant questions that ought to be explored:

-Can GaDOE stand behind these EOCs as valid, especially in view of online administration snafus and grading delays?

-How many states mandate their exams feed into student grades?  The state of New York allows districts to decide whether to use the Regents exams -- the granddaddy of high school exit exams dating back to 1866 -- in final grades.

-If state exams are going to influence student grades, what is the process to assure alignment between what is taught and what is tested? And how are teachers included in this process?

-How can a parent trust a low score on the EOC is accurate? The natural assumption with a low score is the student didn't learn the material, but it's hard to know since the test and scoring are essentially a secret. As a related example, an essay-style question on the AP U.S. History exam last year centered on the rise of conservatism in America in the 1980s. Several metro area students told me their AP classes did not delve into contemporary U.S. history because of how much material had to be covered.

As one teacher wrote about a Milestones test:

I teach Georgia Studies. We have 12 history standards with 2-5 elements under each, 2 geography standards with 3 or 4 elements each, 6 government standards with 3-5 elements each, and 5 economic standards. Counting all of the elements, that's roughly 70-75 elements. Now, each of those elements can have several people, places, events, or concepts that the students are supposed to know.

I have no idea which ones were on the test. I have no idea if a student who struggled in history missed questions on colonization, the Civil War, the New South Era, the Civil Rights Movement, or modern Georgia. I also have no idea how to interpret the results. According to the key I received, one of my students who was a distinguished learner needed his learning to be monitored in all four areas of Georgia Studies. How can you be a distinguished learner and need monitoring? Distinguished learners score roughly 93 percent or higher. It doesn't make any sense.

Parents are also baffled by Milestones results -- those whose children have results -- and unsure where to turn with their questions.

One parent told me her daughter had an A in 9th grade literature. But the teen scored in the low 80s on the End of Course test, dropping her class grade to an 89.

The parent was stunned because her daughter scored in the top 1 percent on the SAT verbal in 7th grade and has 99.9 percent scores in every other verbal comprehension test. And the teen reported to her mom that the lit EOC was easy.

"I find it very confusing that she would have an issue on an EOC," said the mom. "I have heard so much buzz and controversy in the background about this and now I understand what it is all about. This is something that ultimately affects my child as she is compared to other students nationally for GPAs when getting into college and I am questioning the validity and the scoring of this test."

Anyone have any way out of this mess?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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.