Testing remains key part of Georgia’s education plan

Meeting federal guidelines for student performance


Georgia hopes to embark on a new education plan that shifts away from the tough test-and-punish regime of the past that some say was unrealistic and unfair but others say held schools accountable for all students, including their worst performers.

On Monday, the state will submit its plan for compliance with the latest updates to the federal education law, known as the No Child Left Behind Act under President George Bush and now as the Every Student Succeeds Act, after it was amended with bipartisan support under President Barack Obama more than a year ago.

Proponents say Georgia’s plan increases the flexibility and incentives for school districts to give the state’s nearly 1.8 million public school students what they need. But some critics say it swings too far from tough oversight and allows schools to get high scores on the state report card even as groups of students fail. The plan, according to Gov. Nathan Deal, is “a missed opportunity to set high expectations” for students and schools.

No Child threatened to restructure schools that didn’t measure up. Tests created a pressure cooker environment in some schools to the point that educators involved in the worst cheating scandal in the nation, here in Atlanta, blamed pressure to raise test scores when they testified in the trial. A former teacher testified that her school administrators calculated how many students needed to pass their tests to make the goals, and counted out 21 answer sheets that needed to be corrected. “And that’s what we worked on,” the former teacher said.

Eleven educators were convicted and sentenced to prison. They’re all appealing, but two have lost in the Court of Appeals.

The new federal law continues the mandate that students be tested in math and reading starting in third grade, but states will no longer be required by Washington to impose heavy sanctions on schools with poor scores.

Georgia’s plan was written by state Superintendent Richard Woods and his Department of Education, with input from numerous committees. Thousands submitted comments as it evolved, including Deal, with some saying it relied too heavily on testing and others saying testing wasn’t central enough. Some found the plan inscrutable, according to the responses, which were obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution under the Georgia Open Records Act.

“The plan is way too hard for a layperson to read,” wrote one correspondent. Another responded with one word: “simplify.”

The plan is fundamentally about holding educators accountable. Testing, despite the long-running controversy around it, remains central.

Although Every Student Succeeds rolled back testing mandates, Georgia law still requires more than the minimum federal level of testing. Schools that regularly perform poorly on the report card can become subject to state intervention under a new state law passed this year, the First Priority Act.

Members of the public who opined on the draft plan had mixed opinions about testing.

“Too many tests,” wrote one. “On the right track,” wrote another. Yet others complained that the plan doesn’t hold schools accountable for their students’ scores on all exams. “Students will tell you that it isn’t important for them to pass the EOG [end of grade tests] in science or social studies because ‘they don’t count,’” wrote one person. “They know that as long as they pass math and language arts, they will be moved up to the next grade.”

Woods was caught between the opinions of educators and experts.

Gwinnett County Public Schools, the largest district in the state, complained that the plan was too inflexible on testing. The federal law allows experimentation, its response said, but the plan does not commit to finding alternatives to the current standardized tests.

The Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, a local think tank, told Woods in a letter the new plan gives schools a pass when the performance of poor kids, minorities, immigrants and other under-performing “subgroups” is downplayed in the state scoring system.

“Georgia has set the expectation that all children will graduate high school ready for college and career,” the group’s president, Stephen Dolinger, wrote. “We believe the long-term academic achievement goals set forth in this plan are not ambitious enough for all children to achieve that goal.”

The governor told Woods his plan lacked ambition, noting in a September 6 letter that the plan’s testing requirements “should be revised and strengthened.”

Deal also said he thought allowing schools to get credit for non-core courses such as art would allow schools that already offer these courses to “pad” their scores, and suggested that other schools that instead use their resources and student time for supplemental reading and math instruction to at-risk students would be penalized. Deal also wrote that encouraging schools to offer Advanced Placement courses without requiring the external check of an AP exam could lead to watered down courses because, he wrote, it “creates an incentive for schools and districts to enroll students in AP courses where there is little monitoring and regulation of quality … .”

Woods agreed to a few of Deal’s requests, for instance committing to raising reading expectations.

But Woods also pushed back: Georgia’s school report card, the College and Career Ready Performance Index, will still give elementary and middle schools extra points for offering courses in art, physical education, language and other non-core subjects; and high schools will still get points for enrolling students in Advanced Placement courses, even if they don’t take the College Board’s AP exams.

Woods responded that the Great Recession trimmed budgets for “enrichment” courses like art, and that Georgians want them restored. And he said it’s unfair to sanction schools with low AP exam rates, which cost money to take, when the state doesn’t pay for all the tests. The state recently changed its policy about subsidizing the tests.

Woods’ fundamental disagreement was over testing: he said Deal’s requested changes would increase the weight of test results on school scores. “This would be a huge step backward for our state,” he wrote.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will have 120 days to determine whether Georgia’s plan meets the requirements of federal education law, and either ask for changes or approve it. It will be in effect upon approval.

In other Education news:



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Education

Opinion: We have to build more teachers up to rock star status
Opinion: We have to build more teachers up to rock star status

Gwen McCants-Allen is the mother of two boys attending metro Atlanta public schools. She has worked as a human resources manager for more than a decade, including in Gwinnett County Public Schools and another school district. In this guest column, McCants-Allen responds to a blog post last week on the disappointing results of a six-year initiative...
DeKalb Schools says drivers fired for sick-out can reapply for jobs
DeKalb Schools says drivers fired for sick-out can reapply for jobs

The DeKalb County School District will rehire the six remaining bus drivers who were fired in April after many of the district’s drivers staged a sick-out to address working conditions. Sort of. In a letter to the drivers, Superintendent Steve Green said a decision was made to let them reapply for their jobs. No guarantee of employment was in...
School bus season begins soon in metro Atlanta
School bus season begins soon in metro Atlanta

In less than a month, most school districts in metro Atlanta will be back in session. While school supplies, uniforms and maybe even lunches are chief concerns of most students and parents, they may give little consideration to the big yellow vehicle that transports about half of students daily. Consider some interesting statistics from the National...
Student criticizes Clark Atlanta’s handling of harassment charge
Student criticizes Clark Atlanta’s handling of harassment charge

Clark Atlanta University is facing criticism from some that its athletics department is hostile to women and has dragged its feet on a student tennis player’s complaint that her coach sent her unwanted sexually suggestive messages. The 19-year-old student said the messages occurred a few days in mid-March but weren’t seriously investigated...
Teach students not only to ask right questions, but to create new ones
Teach students not only to ask right questions, but to create new ones

University of North Georgia professor Matthew Boedy wrote a thoughtful column in response to a piece I did this week on whether the content we are teaching kids now will serve them in a fluid workforce where adaptability and reinvention will be critical. (He has also written several well-researched columns on guns on campus for the AJC Get Schooled...
More Stories