FORSYTH COUNTY — Though this school year is not yet over, educators are looking ahead to this fall after Gov. Nathan Deal signed an education reform bill that will take some weight off standardized testing.
Senate Bill 364, which will take effect for the 2016-17 school year, makes a number of changes, though the most notable are the number of tests students will be required to take and the role those scores will have on educator evaluations.
Forsyth County School Superintendent Jeff Bearden said the bill is a “step in the right direction.”
“This legislation will allow our teachers to focus more time on instruction,” he said. “It will hopefully alleviate some of the unnecessary and counterproductive stress that has been placed on students when they are assessed too often.”
The bill, which was written by state Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, and co-sponsored by six other lawmakers, including state Sen. Steve Gooch of District 51, which includes a corner of northeast Forsyth, sat on the governor’s desk for about a month before being signed Tuesday.
The number of state standardized assessments a student will take in his or her public school career will be reduced from 32 to 24.
Student growth, which is based on scores from those exams, will count for 30 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, as opposed to 50 percent.
Professional growth will fill that difference by counting for 20 percent, and observations will make up the remaining 50 percent.
Scores will not be counted in teacher evaluations from students who were not in attendance for at least 90 percent of the instructional days for that course.
In evaluating principals and assistant principals, student growth will count for 40 percent, where it was previously 70 percent. The school climate will count for 10 percent, observations and standards of practice for 30 percent and a combination of achievement gap closure, Beat the Odds and College and Career Readiness Index scores for 20 percent.
Beginning in the 2017-18 school year, the state Board of Education will adopt policies to move the End of Grade and End of Course standardized testing windows “as close to the end of the school year or semester as possible” to “maximize classroom instruction time.”
Opponents of this bill voiced concerns over vague rubrics for evaluations.
Proponents, who included teachers and educator advocacy groups, said the changes will shift a focus away from high-stress testing and toward classroom instruction.
“This law will allow our teachers to be creative and teach rather than focus on just a test,” said State School Superintendent Richard Woods.
“I firmly believe this law will help remove many of the barriers that have caused more of our teachers to leave the profession and fewer young people to choose teaching as a profession.”