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Georgia officials seek to end 5 tests for state students

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ATLANTA – Gov. Brian Kemp and state Superintendent Richard Woods announced a plan Tuesday to cut five mandatory standardized tests for Georgia public school students, including four in high school.

The Republican officials are also trying to cut the length of state tests and evaluate local tests that Georgia’s 181 school districts give to evaluate student progress.

Both Woods and Kemp oppose the current amount of testing, part of a national backlash to a system largely built by Republicans in Georgia.

“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.”

The biggest changes would come in high school. Students would no longer have to take four tests. The economics test would be dropped and the state Board of Education would decide which others would go, possibly geometry, physical science and American literature.

Students would still take four tests — U.S. history and possibly algebra, biology, and ninth grade literature and composition. The federal government requires high school students take at least one test in math, science and English/language arts. The history test is not required by the federal government, but Georgia would keep it.

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. The board’s policy requires that a test count for one-fifth of a student’s overall course grade.

All eight courses would still be required for high school graduation, but the state would no longer have a standard yardstick to evaluate student performance in four, and could make the exam carry no direct consequences for students in the other four. Woods said he wasn’t worried.

“I put my faith in the teachers of the state of Georgia,” Woods said, expressing confidence that teachers would keep covering state standards even if a subject was no longer tested.

Georgia would still require a writing assessment in high school, but would allow it to be given any time from 9th to 12th grade, instead of in 11th grade as is now required.

The state earlier eliminated certain high school tests for students taking dual enrollment college courses while in high school, or students taking Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses.

Margaret Ciccarelli, director of legislative affairs for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, the state’s largest teachers’ group, said the association supports fewer tests.

“Our membership strongly indicates they believe Georgia’s assessment program is not serving student needs,” she said.

But Michael O’Sullivan of Georgia CAN, an education group which has supported a strong accountability system, said eliminated high school tests are unlikely to ease complaints about over-testing of younger students.

“When parents are complaining about testing, it’s not high school tests,” O’Sullivan said.

For those younger students, the plan would drop a fifth-grade social studies test not required by the federal government, but would hang onto an optional eighth grade test in Georgia history. Woods said it was important to keep testing history in part to promote civics education.

The measure would require students be tested in the last five weeks of the school year, trying to push back state testing, on the belief that such a move would provide more instructional time for teachers. Districts now are encouraged, but not required, to test late in the year.

Kemp’s plan also aims to cut the length of the Georgia Milestones standardized tests by eliminating questions that allow for comparing student performance to other states. Kemp and Woods say Georgia students already take the SAT and ACT college exams, allowing for comparisons. A sample of Georgia students also take the National Assessment of Educational Progress. That move is likely to go hand-in-glove with an ongoing effort to overhaul state standards. Some are pushing for a cut in the number of standards, which could also lead to shorter tests.

The plan would let the state conduct an inventory of tests given by local districts, typically used to benchmark progress toward meeting state standards, in an effort to eliminate redundant tests and suggest the most effective tests. State officials have discussed a voluntary benchmark test that the state would pay for, but it’s not mandated in the proposal.

There are some things the proposal would not do. Woods has been calling for the Kemp-controlled Governor’s Office of Student Achievement to stop assigning A-to-F grades to schools and districts, and said those discussions are continuing with Kemp. The governor could make that change without action by the General Assembly, but isn’t currently planning to do so. Kemp also isn’t seeking to alter the 100-point College and Career Ready Performance Index, which is part of state law and is the basis for the letter grades.

Georgia also uses the tests to help calculate school ratings for high schools. It wasn’t immediately clear how fewer tests would affect that calculation, but federal approval could be required for any changes.