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Schools across Georgia launch Milestones tests
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The word “assessment” might make students, parents and even some teachers nervous.

With the new Georgia Milestones Assessment System underway this year, many parents and students may wonder what the end-of-the-year tests mean and how they can prepare for them.

The Georgia Milestones is designed to give students information about their own achievement. It’s also an “accountability tool” for parents and the public to measure the quality of local schools.

The assessment is also a way for the state to consolidate its accountability measures.

“We test so much,” said Melissa Fincher, deputy superintendent for assessment and accountability. Fincher spoke at a symposium Jan. 9 hosted by the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education. “One of the things we want to do is eliminate assessments.”

The milestones not only consolidate assessments, but they will replace the high school graduation test as well.

Here are some things to know about the milestone tests:

Milestones do not affect grades or retention this year.

Students in grades 3 through 12 will be tested this spring on Common Core standards in English language arts and math, and on Georgia performance standards in science and social studies.

In the future, the results of the assessment will determine approximately 20 percent of a high school student’s grade, and whether a student in any grade level can move on to the next grade.

This year, it will not.

“They waived it for one year, which is this school year, because it’s the first year of the Georgia Milestones test,” said Matt Cardoza, director of communications for the state Department of Education.

Furthermore, scores this year might dip from those of previous assessments, a result that does not necessarily indicate students are performing worse.

Systems want to give their students the tools to succeed.

The Hall County school board is considering purchasing state-approved calculators for schools to administer to students during the exam. It’s a purchase that could cost anywhere between $40,000 to $80,000, according to Schofield.

“Philosophically I have a huge problem with spending a bunch of money on calculators that are used on state exams,” Superintendent Will Schofield said at the school board meeting last week. “If they are used on a day-to-day basis for instruction, and it just so happens that we can also use those for an exam, that’s fine. That’s a tool for instruction.”

The assessment can be done without calculators, but the state allows their use during the computerized math test. There is a drop-down menu with a calculator on the exam, but Schofield said he worries younger children will have difficulty using it for the first time the day of the test.

According to Schofield, school boards across the state are considering the same things for their students.

Students and parents can prepare for the assessment.

One of the difficult aspects of the assessment is that it is offered online. While the state will not require districts to administer every test online this year, they will require it across all grades in three years.

In Hall County Schools, fifth- and eighth-graders will take the assessment online this year. Next year, they will likely add two more grade levels.

“To tell a kid that you’re going to take a test online for the first time ever is going to be shock enough,” Schofield said.

Parents can prepare their children for the examination at home by taking online practice exams at learnoas.ctb.com/GA/ and by reading tips from the state education department at www.gadoe.org.

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