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Hall County Schools prepare for testing change
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Hall County schools are getting ready for a big transition.

This year, a change in standardized testing will carry with it a change in the way students are graded.

Since the early 2000s, students across Georgia in third through 12th grades have finished the year with End of Course Tests or Criterion Referenced Competency Tests. This year, those will be replaced with the Georgia Milestones tests for the first time.

Because the tests are new, the district will waive its policy that counts end-of-course standardized tests as 15 to 20 percent of a student’s grade in high school. The district also will not use the tests to determine if elementary students proceed to the next grade level this year.

Instead, high school students will be graded in a more traditional way.

“Their final exam will determine the grade,” said Eloise Barron, the district’s deputy superintendent for teaching and learning.

At the elementary level, retention and promotion will be determined by student performance throughout the year.

She said this performance includes written work, oral work, projects and teacher assessments of how students have progressed.

“We don’t just use scores to determine whether a student is learning,” Barron said. “That figures into decision-making, but it’s not the only thing we look at to decide whether a student is learning or achieving.

The temporary waiver also comes because schools will not get Georgia Milestones scores back in time to use them for the decisions, Barron said.

“This is going to serve as our baseline year,” she said. “They simply become the floor. So, next year, will they go up or will they go down? They have to determine what the cutoff score is.”

The Georgia Milestones tests are more rigorous, and scores are expected to drop for all school districts in the state. The previous tests contained only multiple-choice questions, but the Milestones tests will contain a combination of open-ended and multiple-choice questions.

“Every time I’ve heard Melissa Fincher (deputy superintendent for accountability and assessment) at the (state) Department of Education talk about it, she said we fully anticipate students to have problems doing problems that are more vocabulary-based and fill in the blank,” Barron said.

Barron said the test will bring about a change in the way students demonstrate their learning, but not necessarily in what they learn.

“It’s asking for students to show in a different way what they know and are able to do,” she said. “They have to show their knowledge in more than one way.”

The state Board of Education voted in August to temporarily waive its requirements that standardized tests scores count as 20 percent of the grade in high school courses and that scores in reading and math help determine whether elementary school students move on to the next grade level.

Since the Hall County Board of Education also has a policy concerning the scores, it must be waived as well.

Historically, students in Hall and throughout the state have scored well on reading and English/language arts tests, with a large percentage of students doing either meeting or exceeding the standard, and have not fared as well on math tests, with a slimmer percentage meeting the standard.

With the new, more challenging tests, those percentages are expected to drop in all subjects. However, district officials say lower scores should not be interpreted to signify lower student achievement.

Kevin Bales, director of middle and secondary education for the district, said earlier this year the open-ended questions mean students will have to show a more complete understanding of the material. He also said the tests may provide a more complete picture of student achievement.

Barron said education in the district has been, and will continue to be, about building stronger thinkers.

“What we are trying to do is what we’ve been doing in Hall County for at least the past three year, which is trying to engage our students to be better thinkers,” she said.

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