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State school chief on Milestones meltdown: We're fixing it

The AJC asked Georgia State School Superintendent Richard Woods to discuss the technology glitches and grading delays that turned the Milestones tests into ordeals for some districts.

By Richard Woods

Testing is always met with apprehension, and that’s only heightened when issues arise. I take the responsibility of overseeing testing seriously, and want to provide a look at the process.

One of the most glaring lines of apprehension has been the concern that students are over-tested. Thanks to Senate Bill 364, eight Milestones tests will be eliminated and Student Learning Objectives will be greatly reduced or eliminated. The Milestones are now stronger and more accurate than the previous CRCT/EOCT in measuring student achievement as they align expectations with nationally recognized assessments, such as NAEP.

When issues with the End of Grade assessments arose this spring, I recommended – and the State Board approved – a waiver from using EOG scores for promotion/retention. I’m committed to a hold-harmless period for the use of test scores in teacher/leader evaluations and labeling additional schools as Priority or Focus. Technical issues have occurred as we continue to move towards an online testing system.

One such statewide event occurred on April 19. The issue was quickly identified and our testing vendor provided a solution within hours. I’ve received continual updates and our testing team has worked tirelessly to remain on call for districts.

The return of test results has been a challenge due to items requiring a student written response being added into the math and English language arts assessments. These items require students not only to answer the question, but provide their reasoning for their answer – to show what and how they know. These answers cannot be scored by a scanner. They must be read and evaluated by trained and qualified readers. This takes more time than our former tests which consisted only of multiple-choice items and could be scanned and scored very quickly. We are examining options to improve this turnaround time but what we can’t and won’t do is sacrifice accuracy.

Finally, there were some issues that arose at the local level: damaged internet cables, filters blocking testing content, not enough wireless access points. We’ve worked hand in hand with districts and provided flexibility as needed. We’re providing greater bandwidth, and the Governor’s Office is providing grants to enhance technology infrastructure. A stronger, more reliable system is being created.

Even as the overall process for online testing improves, districts continue to have paper-and-pencil as an alternative. However, districts have supported the move to online testing. Our voluntary statewide target for online testing this year was 30 percent -- districts tested approximately 70 percent of students online this year and in many locations there were few, if any, problems.

Testing issues are very personal for the schools and students who experienced them. We are now listening and working with our school districts, parents, and students to develop options and solutions to improve the testing process. I am committed to making necessary changes while keeping the focus on our children and preparing them for life.

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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.