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Lawmakers consider alternatives to standardized tests

Legislation that could enable students to take fewer, more useful tests moved out of a Georgia House of Representatives subcommittee Tuesday.

Senate Bill 211 requires state education officials to determine whether nationally-recognized tests such as the ACT could be substituted for state standardized tests in high school.

Currently, students who take the ACT and other private tests also have to take Georgia’s End of Course Test.

That’s a lot of redundancy and wasted time that could otherwise be used for learning, said Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, the chief sponsor. “The whole idea of this is to free up time to keep from having all these different assessments.”

Tippins, the chairman of the Senate Education and Youth Committee, also wants the Georgia Department of Education to establish tests for first and second grade students that can be given throughout the school year as “formative,” or diagnostic, tests while also being used as end of term evaluative, or “summative,” exams.

Some school districts pay for private formative testing throughout the school year to track students’ progress, then also make students take the state standardized summative tests at the end of the year because they are obliged to under state and federal law.

Teachers complain about duplicative testing and say the results from the state tests come too late in the school year to be useful in the classroom, unlike the private formative tests.

States such as Alabama have tried to substitute the ACT for their mandatory standardized tests, but the U.S. Department of Education didn’t like their plans and threatened to withhold federal funding.

Asked if Georgia could come up with a viable alternative test, the state’s testing director, Melissa Fincher, said yes. Finding a national test that is comparable with the way Georgia’s state tests measure how well students have learned what they’re supposed to under this state’s standards is a “not insurmountable” task, she told lawmakers at a hearing Tuesday, adding that the federal government under President Donald Trump could become less strict about testing.

Under federal law, first and second grade students are not subject to Georgia’s standardized tests, the Milestones, but Tippins said his goal is to find tests for them that could be adapted for older students should Congress relax the law on mandatory standardized testing.

Currently, federal law requires standardized tests in English and math for students above second grade.

Tippins’ legislation has already passed the full Senate and was approved by a subcommittee of the House of Representatives’ Education Committee Tuesday. Next, it moves to the full House Education Committee.

The state has already set aside $2.5 million to develop tests for first and second grade students, since that was a recommendation in a testing bill by Tippins last year, Senate Bill 364, that became law. But Fincher said her department would need more funding -- enough to hire four new staffers -- to work on the high school test compatibility question.

Testing has been a hot topic in the General Assembly in recent years. Last year, parents pushed Senate Bill 355, which would have ensured a student’s right to opt-out of testing, but Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed it.

Parents are back with a similar bill this year. House Bill 425  prohibits punishment for students who refuse to take the tests and confirms a right to request a pencil and paper variant instead of using a computer. 

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