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Here's why local officials support Brian Kemp's plan to reduce standardized tests
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Image by F1 Digitals from Pixabay

When Gov. Brian Kemp and state Superintendent Richard Woods announced a plan Tuesday to cut five mandatory standardized tests for Georgia public school students, it was a welcome message to Lee Ann Rice.

Parents, students and teachers have been voicing their displeasure with the amount and frequency of standardized tests to Rice, the Forsyth County Schools’ director of assessment and accountability, for several years now.

“I think anything that reduces the stress and anxiety that our students, teachers and families are feeling is a very positive thing,” Rice said.

Kemp and Woods said their plan was aimed at addressing just that, and it would do so by cutting the length of state tests and evaluating local tests that Georgia’s 181 school districts give to measure student progress.

Public school students in Forsyth County currently take eight standardized tests starting in third-grade as part of the Georgia Milestones, a state-wide assessment program that started in 2015, according to Rice.

Elementary and middle school students take two end-of-grade assessments in each of four core content areas – English/language arts, math, science and social studies – in third-, fifth- and eighth-grades.

High school students take two end-of-course assessments in each of those four core content areas.

“When you look at the big picture, it’s clear Georgia simply tests too much,” Kemp said at a Tuesday news conference. “On test days it’s making students physically sick because they’re worried they will not do well. That is simply unacceptable in our state.”

Under the proposed legislation, high school students would take just one end-of-course assessment in the core content areas, cutting their amount of standardized testing in half. An economics test would be dropped and the state Board of Education would decide which others would go, possibly geometry, physical science and American literature.

All eight courses would still be required for high school graduation, but the proposed legislation would also let the state Board of Education drop the high school exams from being considered in course grades. Now, state law requires that exams be included in course grades and account for one-fifth of a student’s overall course grade.

Georgia would still require a writing assessment in high school, but would allow it to be given any time from ninth- to 12th-grade, instead of in 11th-grade as is now required.

The plan would also push back state testing to the last five weeks of the school year and eliminate questions that allow for comparing student performance to other states. Kemp and Woods say that Georgia students can already be compared by the results of their SAT and ACT college exams.

Rice believes that “a certain level of accountability is critical in maintaining that our students are achieving at high levels,” she said. “That’s an expectation from Forsyth County families.”

But Rice said that can be achieved with fewer and shorter standardized tests than are currently performed.

Nor should standardized tests be “an event,” she said, that defines a child “based on his or her performance on one test on one day.”

Rather, assessment should be an “on-going process,” Rice said.

“We place a high emphasis on quality instruction and formative assessment throughout the year,” Rice said.

She added, “We’re not going to wait until we get the [Milestones] results back to know how our children are doing.”

Rice would like to see more help for younger students. Kemp’s proposal doesn’t have a significant impact for elementary or middle school students. The plan would only drop a fifth-grade social studies test not required by the federal government.

“When we look at expecting 8-year-olds to take these tests with the pressure that’s involved when they’re still forming their knowledge and skill with test-taking, that’s a lot of pressure for children to feel,” Rice said.

Still, overall, Rice said Kemp’s plan is “a move in the right direction.”

“This move away from the number of tests is positive in that sense, that we’re working to meet the needs of our children in all areas,” Rice said, “not just academic.”

Information from the Associated Press contributed to this story.