The next phase of standardized testing in Georgia is expected to consolidate content, take advantage of technology and offer a more in-depth look at what students have really learned in the classroom.
The Georgia Milestones Assessment System, set to replace Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests and End of Course Tests, will be in place for the next school year.
The new assessment will be aligned with Common Core standards and have open-ended questions alongside typical multiple choice questions. Common Core is a set of standards for English/language arts and mathematics the state adopted in 2010.
“This is just the next evolution,” said Sarah Bell, Gainesville City Schools’ director of standards and assessment. “We’ve been getting ready for this for two or three years.
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity for our children to be able to show what they know in a different way than simply multiple-choice tests,” she said. “A multiple-choice assessment is not always the best assessment for our students.”
Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield agreed, but expressed concern for English-language learners and other students with limited language skills.
“It appears to me that it’s certainly a double-edged sword,” he said. “For children that are able and have a lot of background knowledge, they’ll have a real opportunity to show what they know and show it in different ways.
“Obviously, for English-language learners, for children that have limited verbal abilities, I’m afraid that what we probably are looking at is a great dichotomy. We’ll probably see kids that really fly and kids that really stumble based on verbal abilities.”
The new tests cover four content areas — math, science, social studies and English/language arts. The Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests included reading as a fifth assessment, but school officials said reading would be incorporated into English/language arts.
“We’ve been working on elements that are addressing the processes of taking these new types of assessments,” said incoming Gainesville Superintendent Wanda Creel. “You’ll see even in our strategic plan there will be an emphasis on critical thinking (and) problem solving within the content areas.
“We’ll continue to work on writing being a component, because there will be opportunities for students to express themselves with their responses, so it’s going to be important that our students have those skills to rely upon.”
With some exceptions for special education students with specific testing accommodations, the plan is for the assessments to be administered entirely online by the fifth year of implementation.
While not an issue for local schools, Schofield said it could present a headache to other areas in the state.
“In a state like Georgia that has these radically different economic situations in our communities, it’s going to be a real challenge and a real push for some school districts to be able to give these tests online just because of bandwidth issues (and) because of student device issues,” Schofield said. “Quite honestly, we can adjust and make it work either way in Hall County, but there will be some parts of Georgia where that’s going to be a real challenge.”
But as far as students adjusting from paper versions to the digital equivalent, school officials aren’t concerned.
“Today’s kids are different than what it was 10, 15 years ago,” said Wayne Colston, testing coordinator for Hall County. “They’re much more tech savvy. The only reservation I have would be third-grade kids. I don’t know about that; we’re just going to have to wait and see.”
That being said, the ease of online testing may be worth any headache, especially as it could give teachers more time to go over pertinent information.
“An end-of-the-year test ought to be at the end of the year,” Schofield said. “If we could start to give these end-of-the-year tests in the last 10 days of school, we would gain back 20-30 instructional days that would just be much more meaningful.
“In spite of your best efforts, after we give the big tests kids take a deep breath and they start to have this idea that the year is over.”
Another concern Schofield mentioned is there are no plans now to implement modified testing for special-needs students.
Students in special education classes now take a different form of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.
“If in fact that turns out to be the case, I’m not sure what we learn about taking special needs children with significant challenges and making them take the same tests as everybody else,” Schofield said.
“I’ve always had some philosophical problems with doing that with children when they’re struggling. But not everybody feels that way.”
Georgia Department of Education spokesman Matt Cardoza said there would be no differentiation in tests, as required by the federal department.
State officials also said “increased expectations for students” might mean lower scores than on previous standardized tests.
“We need to know that students are being prepared,” State School Superintendent John Barge said in a news release. “Not at a minimum-competency level but with rigorous, relevant education to enter college, the workforce or the military at a level that makes them competitive with students from other states.”
Georgia was one of 22 states to join the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career but ended up pulling out of the consortium last year.
The states were working together to develop assessments aligned with Common Core.
The state dropped out of the consortium, reportedly because the designed tests would cost the state around $27 million annually.
The bid to develop the testing was awarded May 28 to CTB/McGraw-Hill, a division of McGraw-Hill Education and publisher of educational assessments. It is for a $107.8 million, five-year contract.
The Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests were implemented in 2000, according to the Department of Education’s website, and cover grades 3-8. End of Course Tests are given in select high school courses as a final exam.
Georgia Milestones won’t replace the Student Learning Objectives, which test material not included in the standardized testing; nor will it replace the high school writing assessment for juniors.