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Area schools weigh how to handle new testing guidelines
Students can now test out of certain classes
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High school students will soon have the option to test out of certain courses, perhaps accelerating their time spent in high school or enabling them to take more advanced classes.

Beginning this school year, a student can choose to take an End of Course Test and, with a score of 90 percent or higher, not need to take the associated coursework.

The matter has been brought before the Gainesville City Board of Education for consideration, and is expected to be presented to the Hall County Board of Education at the July 8 work session.

While moving more quickly through certain courses may seem like a good idea for certain students, both Gainesville and Hall officials caution that it’s not a decision to be taken lightly.

“It may be a little more difficult to reach Exceeds than (the students) might think,” said Terry Sapp, Hall high schools school improvement specialist. She said she intends to suggest that the final score be weighted as a regular class, and not as an honors class, so it would not provide any extra points to a student’s GPA.

Both Sapp and Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said that most of the students who would be eligible to test out of a course might not be willing to mess with their GPA.

“For the last 12 years, only two years have we not had a controversy about who graduated first in the class, or second,” Dyer said.

Depending on how the EOCT is weighted, it could potentially make a difference in college and scholarship acceptance, Sapp added.

“It then impacts your class rank, which then has long-term implications for your university acceptance, or your HOPE eligibility, Zell Miller Scholar eligibility, and so on,” she said.

The state’s Department of Education website states that the rule comes from the state board of education rule 160-5-1.15, which went into effect April 29.

The tests cost $50 each to take, with the state recommending that the school systems let the students pay for the cost. The $50 could be refundable for students who receive an Exceeds rating on the EOCT, and therefore do test out of the course.

The Exceeds rating is given to a student who receives a 90 percent or higher on the test. If a test taker does not achieve this rating, the student must then enroll in the class.

Neither school system has voted on any concrete rules involving how a student can take an EOCT to test out of a class. The state has provided some guidelines and requirements, including that a student must have had a grade of B or better in the most recent course in the same subject area, permission from a guardian, and teacher recommendation.

Students can only take the tests during normal testing times, as well.

“I think it will be interesting to see what kind of interest we have in this,” said Sarah Bell, director of academic programs and standards at Gainesville. “It’s been recommended that we start small and proceed pretty carefully at the beginning, before it becomes very widespread, just to see where the issues or the challenges might come up.”

While there are considerations about GPA and perhaps missing out on key parts of these classes, there can still be benefits, which is why Sapp points out that it’s really up to an advisement team of educators, the student and the student’s guardians.

“The beauty is, if they earn these credits and then opted to stay on in high school for their full career ... (they can) continue their education in higher-level academic courses,” she said. “They can take more rigorous high school courses. They can also engage in more apprenticeships and more internships as well, more work-based learning.”

While for right now students can only test out of EOCT courses, Bell said that the rule from the Department of Education “is clearly written to allow for other options to be incorporated” for students to go through high school at an accelerated pace.

There are different opinions as to whether or not an accelerated pace is appropriate, as many classes are used to teach the building blocks for the next class in the sequence, but local school officials agree that it provides an opportunity for certain students who can continue to thrive at a higher level.

“From an instruction point of view, students shouldn’t be held back because they’re ready to move on,” Dyer said. “And you can’t argue with that.”

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