Historically, most students in Gainesville and Hall County have met or exceeded expectations on standardized tests for English, but that’s expected to change with the new Georgia Milestones tests.
Georgia Milestones will replace the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests and End of Course Tests this year as the standardized tests by which student achievement is measured.
The new tests are expected to be more challenging across the board.
The tests will include both open-ended and multiple-choice questions, where the older tests were entirely multiple-choice.
Kevin Bales, director of middle and secondary education for the Hall County School District, said the open-ended questions will require students to show a deeper understanding of the material.
The tests are also designed to be more rigorous, and Sarah Bell, chief academic officer for Gainesville schools, said the state Department of Education has warned districts to expect lower scores for English/language arts
On the most recent Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, which are administered to third- through eighth-graders, most schools in both Hall County and Gainesville had at least 97 percent of students meet or exceed expectations in both reading and English/language arts.
Bell said the test will not have a separate reading assessment, and that reading skills will instead be tested in combination with English/language arts.
“We have been getting, for planning purposes only, projections on how our students might fare and what we see based on those projections,” Bell said. “We anticipate that reading and writing will be areas of need.”
Bales said math scores are also expected to be lower. Students statewide have already struggled with math on standardized tests, with no students exceeding the standard in either Hall County or Gainesville on the most recent End of Course Tests in mathematics II.
Fewer than 70 percent of students in either system met or exceeded the standard in every area of mathematics tested.
Bell said Georgia Milestones will include new tests for analytic geometry and coordinate algebra and will be more rigorous in all math testing areas.
However, Bell and Bales said they expect the more rigorous tests and the open-ended questions to have a positive effect in the classroom because students will be tested on understanding rather than memorization.
The educators said the test will also give a more accurate picture of how well students are doing.
“We’re actually looking forward to the new assessment with regard to seeing how we have progressed in the last few years,” Bales said in July.
Bell said the gap between English scores and math scores on the previous tests may have been an indication that English tests were easier than the tests in math. The more rigorous tests may provide a better idea of where academic strengths and weaknesses lie.
Knowing where students need the most help in English, Bell said, is especially important for college and career readiness.
Bell said it is not yet clear how the Milestones tests will affect student grades. End of Course Tests counted as a portion of the grade for that course, and Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests affected decisions about grade retention at the elementary school level.
Bell said more information on how the new, more rigorous tests will affect grades will be available later.