The test will replace both the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test and the End of Course Tests previously given to Georgia students.
The new test system aligns with Common Core education standards adopted by 45 states and, according to the state, will be tougher than the tests it replaces. The state also says the test provides a consistent program across grades 3 through 12, whereas before, the CRCT was given to grades 3 through 8 and the EOCT was taken by high school students.
For now, the test is unfamiliar territory for most educators in the state, including Marietta City Schools Superintendent Dr. Emily Lembeck.
“I look forward to learning more tomorrow through a department of education webinar,” Lembeck said. “From what I know at this time, I welcome the challenge of a new assessment system that will align with the more rigorous standards and is a system, not a series of disjointed tests.”
By the fifth year of implementation, Georgia Milestones will be administered entirely online, according to the Georgia Department of Education. Only 35 percent of Georgia students took the EOCT online in 2013-14.
“There are expectations for the transition to online administration, which should yield faster scoring and information, as well as the potentially higher engagement of students who are increasingly using technology in school and at home,” Lembeck said.
Test scores are likely to drop the first year because of increased expectations, according to the state department of education.
“It is a much more difficult test than the current CRCT and EOCT,” said Matt Cardoza, spokesman for the state DOE.
“The new tests will require students to show and write out answers to questions, where the old tests were only multiple-choice. We saw the first evidence of lower scores with last year’s coordinate algebra End of Course Test, which was based more on the new type of test.”
The move will also bring Georgia’s tests in line with other indicators of student achievement, according to John Barge, Georgia state schools superintendent.
“We need to know that students are being prepared, not at a minimum competency level but with rigorous, relevant education to enter college, the workforce or the military at a level that makes them competitive with students from other states,” Barge said in a release.
Another change with Georgia Milestones is the test will include open-ended questions, which the state DOE says will more closely measure how much students have learned.
Chris Ragsdale, interim superintendent of Cobb schools, said local schools are already working to implement the new test.
“We knew that the shift to new state tests was planned to take place in the upcoming school year, but we still have questions about what that will entail,” he said.
“With our teachers out for the summer, there will not be an opportunity to inform those who will administer and prepare students for these tests. Fortunately, we already have been preparing for this change by enhancing our local assessment
Ragsdale expressed optimism about some aspects of the new test.
“We certainly had an idea the new tests would be in tune with the Georgia Performance Standards,” said Ragsdale.
“The fact that the new tests are to have open-ended questions and focus on problem solving and critical thinking is very positive. I support more rigor, even if it means scores will drop in the near term. Even though I believe our students are practically overwhelmed with tests as it is, these particular assessments are critical and will play a key part in my focus on using data to help improve our work in the classroom.”
Common Core worries linger
The Georgia General Assembly nearly pulled the state out of the Common Core curriculum standards this spring, but elected not to do so. Common Core has remained a point of contention for people such as Marietta’s Tanya Ditty, a state director with Concerned Women for America.
“The test is aligned to the Common Core standards, so Georgia children already have a deficit on this test,” she said. “Common Core is subpar to the Georgia Performance Standards.”
Ditty said she looked at the website for McGraw-Hill, the company that developed the test and noticed it’s a test any state can purchase. She wonders where the state of Georgia became involved in writing the test.
“Georgia needs to be in control of the test and the questions,” she said. “They went and bought some standardized test any state can use. Are we controlling the test? That’s critical for teacher evaluations.”
The state awarded a bid to McGraw-Hill to develop the new testing system at a cost of $107.8 million over five years, according to the state.
Kathleen Angelucci, chairwoman of the Cobb Board of Education, has her own concerns.
“The Georgia Department of Education has stated that the questions will be open-ended, which leaves room for subjectivity with regard to assessing true knowledge of the subject matter,” Angelucci said.
“They are already predicting low scores, which does not bode well regarding expectancy of success for student achievement. True knowledge is key, not constant assessment.”
Other issues Angelucci sees are the instructional time lost to increased assessments and the lack of knowledge about the test’s effects on local schools until it has been given for several years.
“The fact that these tests will eventually be required to be administered solely online means more technology costs/unfunded mandates being handed down to school districts in Georgia when there are some that can’t even afford to keep the lights on,” Angelucci said. “The new testing system is reportedly projected to cost $107.8 million. The question is how much more of a burden will donor districts like Cobb have to bear in order to support untested, unproven, expensive reforms being passed down from the state?”
Angelucci’s counterpart in the Marietta school system, Randy Weiner, has a more positive outlook on the test.
“It sounds like it will be more aligned to what’s taught in the classroom, with more relevant and rigorous standards,” Weiner said. “I hope this is another move in the right direction.”
According to his research, Weiner said the new test will cost about $6 million less per year than the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a test Georgia pulled out of in 2013. Overall, he does not oppose the test or the Common Core standards.
“I hope this set of standard will be here for a long while, if it’s as good as we’re hearing it is,” he said.