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School uses superheroes, encouraging messages to lighten End of Grade testing mood
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Signs with positive messages hang throughout East Hall Middle School for students taking the End of Grade tests Wednesday.

At East Hall Middle School, students opened the first day of Georgia’s End of Grade testing with superheroes in the halls and encouraging notes from a teacher on sidewalks entering the building.

Last year, faculty and staff turned paper into a “red carpet” for students on test day and cheered them as “rock stars.”

The state-mandated Georgia Milestones testing at this school is anything but boring.

“First and foremost, what you want to do is have the teachers and all staff reassure the students that they’ve spent the entire year preparing for this,” said Kristin Finley, principal at East Hall Middle. “We’re not asking them to do anything except show what they know. If the teachers are calm and positive, the students will follow that lead. But we do like to have fun.”

Wednesday was the first day of End of Grade testing for the approximately 13,000 students in third through eighth grades in Hall County Schools. The testing will continue the rest of this week and into next week.

Gainesville City Schools will begin its testing for its 3,700 students in the same grades Monday. Gainesville students will be taking the tests through April 28, with their specific dates of testing depending on what grade they’re in.

Kevin Bales, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning for Hall County Schools, said the first day of testing was completed “without any major issues.”

“We are extremely pleased with today’s test administration,” he said.

The required testing is designed to see how well students are learning, as well as how schools are doing in teaching material mandated by the state. All students in grades three through eight are tested in reading and mathematics and students, in fifth and eighth grades are also tested in science and social studies. The majority, but not all, of the students taking tests in Hall County are doing so online, while Gainesville City Schools will have fully online testing.

While the tests do not alone determine whether students are promoted to the next grade, more attention is given to fifth-grade and eighth-grade students who do not pass the tests, particularly in the reading and math areas.

“If (fifth-graders and eighth-graders) do not pass, they are given a second attempt to pass the test,” Bales said. “If they are not successful, on that time, there should be a meeting convened to where the child’s placement is discussed. Some of those kids may be end up being retained, but some of those kids will be placed with a transition plan at the next grade level. It has a small impact on retention.”

The importance of testing to students and schools can cause additional pressure, one of the reasons Finley said her school has sought to make the time fun. This year, the entrances to the halls of the three grades were decorated with superheroes — including Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, Iron Man and the Hulk.

“The art teacher has made different comic book heroes almost life size, and those are displayed throughout the hallways with encouraging words,” Finley said.

Some of the students dedicated their test performance to friends, teachers and parents in messages that were included with school announcements.

“Many of those are very thoughtful; some will make you cry,” Finley said.

At Sardis Enrichment School, Principal Neil Yarrington has a different approach to taking the pressure of students and teachers.

“We don’t put emphasis on the test,” he said. “We don’t talk about it with our kids; we don’t talk about it with our staff. We know that we do it. Our focus is our relationships with our kids. We feel like if we take care of our kids and teach what we’re supposed to, the test kind of takes care of itself.

“I put no pressure on them whatsoever,” he added. “I’m an old dinosaur. It’s something that we have to do. We pay attention to the results, of course, when we get the results back, and we make adjustments at that point and we move forward.”

Shea Ray, director of data and student assessments for Gainesville City Schools, said all students will take the test online this year in her district, one of the reasons the testing is going a full two weeks this year.

Fifth and eighth grades will take the test next week since their scores have more impact on promotion decisions.

“We want to get those scores sooner,” she said, adding that students in the other grades will take the test the following week.
While the full online testing is new, students are getting the opportunity to experience it on a practice site so they can see what online testing will be like.

There have been some problems in the last couple of years with the testing from the state level, but Ray and Bales said they expect fewer problems this year. Ray said the vendor for state testing received input from school districts who had problems.

“The online vendor has made essential upgrades that they feel are going to help,” she said.

She added that her advice to those taking the test is simple.

“The message that we do try to send is that we want students to relax to do their best,” she said. “This is only a piece of data that we look at. We look at other things as well.”

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