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Georgia Milestones exam will not affect grades or retention this year
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Public hearing

What: Common Core standards with state Board of Education member Kevin Boyd
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Gainesville High School Pam Ware Theater, 830 Century Place, Gainesville
More info: Debbie Caputo, 404-657-7410

Students in Georgia will not be held back or graded this year based on results of the Georgia Milestones standardized tests.

Georgia Milestones will replace the End of Course Tests that were administered to high school students and the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests that were administered to elementary and middle school students until this year.

EOCT scores were counted as 20 percent of the grade for high school courses. CRCT assessments in math and reading were a factor in determining whether a student moved on the the next grade level.

The state Board of Education voted last week to waive those requirements for the new tests this year, but they are expected to be reinstated next year.

“They waived it for one year, which is this school year, because it’s the first year of the Georgia Milestones test,” said Matt Cardoza, director of communications for the state Department of Education. “Passage for the reading and math portions of those tests won’t trigger the promotion committee ... and it also won’t count as 20 percent of the grade for high school courses.”

Cardoza said there will not be a waiver next year, “assuming nothing changes.”

Gainesville schools are in the process of developing a plan to determine promotion and final grades without using state tests.

“We are working with the leadership at (Gainesville Middle School, Gainesville High School and Wood’s Mill Academy) and we’re developing a process,” said Sarah Bell, chief academic officer for the district, at a school board work session Tuesday. “I think we have a plan that will work, looking at a separate final exam.”

Bell said students with a grade below 70 at the end of a course will be required to take a final exam for 20 percent of their grade. She said students with a grade of 70 or above who have taken the Georgia Milestones assessment will be exempt from the exam with parental permission. Exempted students may still choose to take the final exam to improve their final grades.

The district is still determining how to determine retention and promotion this year.

“We certainly will have to look at our policy in the same way the state looks at its policy,” Bell said. “The retention will be something we will be working with as a leadership team at a district level.”

Bell said the exams have taken precedence in the planning process because a plan needs to be in place before courses end in December.

Kevin Bales, director of middle and secondary education for Hall County Schools, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The new tests are expected to produce lower scores for students across the state.

The tests will include a combination of open-ended and multiple-choice questions, while the previous tests were multiple choice only. The tests will also be more rigorous, and will include completely new tests in some subjects.

Students will be expected to show a deeper understanding of the material for Georgia Milestones than for the multiple-choice tests.

“The CRCTs and EOCTs were basic skills type tests, and the new tests are designed for college and career readiness,” Bell said.

“We are truly looking at a different way for our children being able to be prepared to apply their knowledge and tell us, not just what they know, but how they know it,” said Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Wanda Creel.

Another major change between the previous tests and Georgia Milestones is the method of administration. The new tests will be administered online.

Districts will not be required to administer every test online this year, but are expected to begin the transition to online administration, with three years to complete it.

Students will be tested on Common Core standards in English language arts and math, and on Georgia performance standards in science and social studies.

Creel encouraged community members with questions about the new assessment to attend an upcoming public hearing with state Board of Education member Kevin Boyd, which will be held Tuesday.