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Pencils sharpened for school testing season
State easing up on some student testing, but some parents say its not enough
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Testing schedules

Hall County schools

Dec. 7-11: High school Milestones end-of-course testing

April 19-29: Elementary and middle school Milestones end-of-grade testing

May 9-16: High school Milestones end-of-course testing

May 25: last day of school

Gainesville schools

Dec. 7-18: High school Milestone end-of-course testing

April 18-22: Elementary and middle school Milestone end-of-grade testing

May 9-20: High school Milestones end-of-course testing

May 20: last day of school

All test dates subject to change due to weather or other circumstances.

After a school year marked by difficult state-mandated testing and dissatisfied parents, the state is easing up a bit.

Officials decreased the number of required Student Learning Objectives, which means fewer tests for students throughout the year.

Meanwhile, the Georgia Milestones are the state’s current method of assessment for grades third through 12th, and they were wrought with problems last year, including statewide technical errors.

“The purpose of this state testing is twofold,” said Wayne Colston, Hall system testing coordinator. “One, it gives the teachers an overview of how well their kids are performing after a year of instruction. And it gives the principal and administrators an idea of how well the teachers are teaching that subject.”

The 2015-2016 calendar includes a week of Milestones in December that some high school students will take and a week of testing in April for elementary and middle school students.

Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield previously voiced his concern with the timing of the April testing.

“It’ll be nice when an end-of-the-year test happens at the end of the year,” he said.

Finally, high school level Milestones will be offered for about a week in May.

But some parents don’t want their children sitting for weeks of stressful testing, and they don’t think it’s fair to teachers either.

“Many parents who are refusing these tests are actually doing it to help the county and the school teachers,” said Hall County parent Lisa Farmer. “We don’t believe teachers’ pay should be determined by scores on tests. This is one snapshot, one test, one moment in time and every child tests differently.”

Farmer said she believes a “standardized” test cannot accurately reflect an entire classroom of students, because “every child is an individual.”

Meg Norris, a former Hall County teacher, said she believes the Milestones don’t offer teachers enough information to help their students improve anyway.

“My biggest beef with the testing is that the teachers can’t see it,” she said. “How can you teach something you’ve never seen?”

Norris is the co-founder of Georgians to Stop Common Core and founder of Opt Out Georgia, the movement that meant more than 3,000 students did not take the Milestones last year.

Norris said she started Opt Out Georgia to “encourage parents to pay attention to the over-testing going on, as well as exactly what their kids are being tested on.”

Though the testing calendar is lengthy, Colston said it is shorter than previous years due to the removal of the writing tests, Georgia High School Graduation Tests and some Student Learning Objectives.

Sarah Bell, chief academic officer for Gainesville City Schools, said more flexibility from the state means more time for teachers to focus on helping students in the classroom.

“We are pleased that this change will allow us to protect more instructional time,” Bell said. “It will be a welcome change for both students and teachers.”

Farmer said many parents are preparing to “opt out” their children from Milestones again. She and others have submitted letters with the start of the school year stating their desire to keep their children out of these tests.

“We’re encouraging parents to opt out even earlier,” Norris said.

Norris said she is happy to see the state back off on some testing, but “it’s not enough.”

“Our kids are not guinea pigs,” Norris said. “Until you have a system that is ironclad, don’t mess with our kids until you have something that you know is going to work.”

Farmer said she appreciates the efforts Hall County made last year to “do the right thing” and respect parents’ wishes while following the required regulations.

“I feel confident this year will be different, and Hall County will be prepared and lead the way so that parents who do want to refuse this test for their kids won’t have any trouble,” Farmer said.

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