School testing overhaul legislation goes to the Georgia governor

Updated March 24, 2016

Legislation that diminishes the role of state tests in public school classrooms passed through the Georgia General Assembly Thursday and now heads to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.

Senate Bill 364 reduces the amount of testing tied to teacher performance and reduces the weight of test results in teacher evaluations.

Student test “growth” — the change in scores over time — currently counts for at least half of each evaluation but that drops to 30 percent under the legislation, which also reduces the number of Georgia Milestones tests from 32 to 24.

Proponents say the changes would result in less exam preparation and rote learning, but critics say schools would find it harder to identify weak teachers.

State Superintendent Richard Woods said the reduction in the number of tests and their consequence for teachers are “common-sense moves toward allowing our teachers to be creative and teach rather than focus on a test.”

A version of the bill was adopted unanimously by the Senate in February. The House amended it then passed it unanimously and returned it to the Senate to approve the changes. The bill’s main sponsor, Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, agreed to the changes and got a 47-2 vote of final approval Thursday.

It was backed by nearly every major education group in Georgia, including the state PTA with more than 200,000 members. “This bill will probably have more positive impact on education than any we’ve seen in quite a while,” Tippins said.

The bill brings significant change to Georgia’s testing mandates, which stemmed in part from federal requirements. The national emphasis on tests was reduced in December, when Congress overhauled the No Child Left Behind Act, replacing it with the Every Student Succeeds Act. The old law, and related agreements between states and the U.S. Department of Education, required that tests be used as a major indicator of teacher performance and that teachers be held accountable for the results. ESSA hands to the states significant control over testing and the determination of how to use the results.

Here’s what the 11-page SB 364 does for Georgia’s public schools, including charter schools: