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‘It’s important that students take the test’: Forsyth County Schools look to encourage family participation in Georgia Milestones
Assessment results provide input for teachers, instruction

Forsyth County Schools teaching and learning department leaders emphasized the importance of families taking part in state testing during a review of Georgia Milestones results at the Board of Education’s work session on Tuesday, Sept. 7.

Accountability Coordinator Tim Keyser and Assessment Coordinator Susan Norse’s presentation and review of 2020-21 Georgia Milestones results, which include end-of-grade and end-of-course assessments for grades 3-12, showed that participation rates were historically low in Forsyth County during the pandemic.

Many educational leaders throughout Georgia expected a drop in participation from last year as Milestones tests were not given to students in spring 2020, and the state relaxed requirements in spring 2021.

While state education officials gave districts the option of setting the weight of Milestones testing to 0.01% of students’ grades in spring 2021, FCS set the weight at 10% to encourage participation while making sure the tests would not severely impact students.

Even with the change, Keyser said participation rates were historically low.

In FCS, the highest participation rate on an assessment was 91% in third grade. The lowest was 27% in 11th grade. On the state level, the highest recorded participation rate was 79%, and the lowest was 55%.

In a normal year in Forsyth County, Keyser said the participation rates are 99% or higher regardless of grade level or subject.

Kristin Morrissey, Board of Education chairwoman, said participation rates could have still been lower in the spring despite the 10% increase to EOCs weight on grades because lack of participation still did not lower students’ grades.

This school year, the weight of EOC assessments returned to 20% of students’ final grades, which FCS leaders are confident will bring participation back up.

“It’s EOGs that we have some concerns about,” Keyser said.

Students in grades 3-8 take EOGs each year to track educational progress, but unlike the EOCs taken by high school students, they do not have a 20% weight on final grades. Now, with participation so low, Keyser and Norse say they are worried about getting that participation back up now that state testing is shifting back to standards created before the pandemic.

“We really feel we need to communicate to the public what the Milestones is all about, the importance of the Milestones and why it’s important that … students take the test,” Norse said.

Keyser said state testing is especially important in creating an instructional framework for students. Individual results can let school leaders and teachers know what students need extra help on or even where students might need an extra challenge.

Morrissey said student participation in Milestones could also lead to less stress as teachers would be able to better prepare students for tests and other projects and assignments that may otherwise feel overwhelming.

Keyser pointed out that participation rates below 95% could also have a negative impact on the district’s College and Career Readiness Performance Index, or CCRPI, scores measured by the Georgia Department of Education.

Moving forward, Norse said the teaching and learning department will be working on a campaign to inform more parents in the district about the Georgia Milestones and the value in making sure students take the assessments.

Tom Cleveland, the BOE representative for District 3, said he has taken Milestones results with “a grain of salt” this year with the pandemic, lack of participation and many different factors in mind. While scores are much lower than in the past, they are consistent with changes across the state, and he said they don’t show an accurate depiction of sure learning loss.

Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden, on the other hand, said learning must have been negatively impacted nationwide.

“There are children in our country that did not walk through the door of a classroom from March 2020 until this fall,” Bearden said. “That has to have an impact.”

He explained that there were students, even in the metro Atlanta area, that never logged into virtual classes last school year, meaning they missed out on an entire year of learning.

Knowing the struggles other districts have faced through the pandemic, Bearden said he is proud that FCS was able to provide students with a year of quality instruction. Even though 30% of students attended virtually last year, Bearden said virtual attendance remained high throughout the year.

“The gaps that we will see in other communities are not the gaps we will see in Forsyth County,” Bearden said. “I don’t think there’s any question about that.”