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Stakes go up for Georgia Milestone tests
Results will play role in determining whether students are promoted to next grade
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Hall County and Gainesville students may face failing a grade this year — depending on the results of the Georgia Milestone tests they began taking Monday.

Students in grades 3-8 are taking Milestone tests — English/language arts, mathematics, science and social studies.

Hall County has about 13,200 students to test, and Gainesville has 3,717.

For the first time, students may be retained at the current grade level if they do not meet the state requirements for the reading and math portions of the test. Third-graders must read on grade level. Fifth-graders and eighth-graders must meet standards for reading and math.

High school students must pass the “end-of-course” exams, and the results become 20 percent of a student’s final grade in the course.The EOC tests are given in May.

Test results did not affect promotion or high school grades in 2015 because the test was dramatically changed.

“Last year was the big change because they changed the format of the test, basically from a multiple choice test to an extended response or essay-type questions,” Wayne Colston, Hall County test coordinator, said.

Both systems also have a combination of students taking the test online and with paper.

Gainesville students in fourth, fifth and eighth grades are taking the test online. Students in third, sixth and seventh grades are taking a paper test.

In Hall County,third and sixth grades are using paper tests. Students in fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth grades are taking the online version.

Officials from both systems said they do not have enough computers — or technical power — to accommodate all online testing.

Shea Ray, director of data and student assessment for Gainesville City Schools, said “state guidance” says schools should be completely online in three more years.

“We are working toward that,” Ray said. “Each year we try to add devices.”

Colston noted the state “is really promoting online testing,” but he added Hall County does not have that many computers available.

“We’re getting there. We’re probably ahead of the curve (for the state),” he said.

If a student does not reach the state standards on any part of the test, Colston said, the school principal, teacher and parents confer. With unanimous agreement, the student can be promoted to the next grade.

“If a parent really insists, I’ve not known of any school that’s gone against the wishes of the parent,” Colston said. He also added the research on student retention is “mixed’ about whether it is effective or not.

In Gainesville, a committee of teachers and administrators, Ray said, “take a look at all the learning evidence we have on the child. Such factors as the age of the student and how he or she performs in class also are considered.”

Sarah Bell, Gainesville’s chief academic officer, told the school board Monday night that decisions on retention ideally have unanimous agreement among administrators, teacher and parents.

The two school districts have slightly different schedules.

Gainesville is giving all parts of the test this week, and makeups are then offered next week.

Hall County starts with English/language arts today and Wednesday, then math, but Friday is a makeup day. Science and social studies were set for Monday and Tuesday, and another makeup day on Wednesday.

Both school districts expect to have results by mid-May, which are needed because of the effects they have on grades and promotion/retention.

Ray noted that state officials got the end-of-course results for the first semester back within the schedule so that students’ final grades could be calculated.

She noted the end-of-course tests are all online and the results are also online.

“That helps speed up the process,” she said.

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