Danelle Chamberlin is a full-time 4th grade teacher and a Ph.D. student at the University of Georgia in the College of Education’s Department of Educational Theory and Practice. In this piece, she explains why the Georgia Milestones exams are not helpful to parents, students or teachers.
By Danelle Chamberlin
It’s that time of year again when thousands of schoolchildren are taking their end-of-the year tests. Here in Georgia they come in the form of the Georgia Milestones Assessments.
As a teacher, I am constantly faced with similar questions and concerns from parents about testing in education today. Among the questions: How are students being promoted based on Milestones scores? What are the scores used for? Can my child opt out of testing?
Let’s be honest. Milestones Assessments and arguably most end-of-the year assessments including the CRCT don't provide educators with any unknown information about a student. Spending every school day with your children paints a much better picture of who the children are and how they perform more than any test score could ever do. The test score is only one small piece of data that “proves” the child’s performance in the areas they are being assessed.
However, even with the new updates to standardized testing, which includes constructed written responses in addition to multiple choice questions, the results are still not at all indicative of what a student knows or is capable of doing. For example, many students can create projects and presentations that demonstrate mastery of what they learned in a unit, yet still struggle to regurgitate the mundane facts for a multiple choice test. The other problem is the educational environment we have created around high stakes testing. Now, many students are experiencing a range of emotions to these tests from anxiety to apathy toward another test.
So, will students who passed the majority of everything all year be held back because they failed the Milestones? No. Schools look at the whole child and not just the test score.
If the Milestones Assessment is a promotion requirement in your school, it does not mean it is the only requirement. Again, assessments are a snapshot in time; the school will look at the whole child and an entire year’s performance. Not to mention, you can opt your child out of standardized testing. However, in doing so, many school districts require an opt-out process depending on the grade level and content.
This process may be as simple as writing a letter; or it will consist of a formal repeal process, which may include meetings to ensure your child is not being penalized for opting out. For more information on the opting out process, there are many groups that have taken up this movement and can provide resources on the web to guide you as a parent or guardian in the decision-making process.
What are tests scores being used for in schools besides promotion?
Within the individual schools, the test scores are sometimes being used to determine if students may need extra academic support in the following school year or if they are progressing at a satisfactory rate. Some schools will reward students based on growth from the previous school year or by getting a certain score. These rewards often include pizza, Popsicles, or dance parties. Counties will use them to show growth in schools and to rank schools because every student is given the same test.
However, the reality of the tests is that schools don't know what the children got wrong or why. The test scores are given to the next year’s teacher in August who is still getting to know the child in the first place.
Why isn’t there more of a push for opting out of standardized assessments among parents and teachers? Many teachers are afraid of losing their jobs because these assessments are tied to teacher evaluations as well as principal evaluations, school accountability reports and federal funding. With Georgia being a right-to-work state, they are afraid that if only one or two teachers stand up against testing they'll lose their jobs. As for most parents, they don't know there is an opt-out process or do not want to make their child feel stigmatized for not taking the test.
Standardized tests such as the Milestones are not helping students. These tests take time away from valuable instruction and provide us with data we already know in most cases. However, nothing is going to change without movements from both parents and teachers to discourage the constant barrage of testing. For more information, follow the #optout2016 movement through Twitter, unitedoptout.org, fairtest.org and other grassroots organizations.