For 14 years now, Georgia parents have sweated out their child’s performance on the state’s standardized test, the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test.
But the close of this school year brings to an end the Era of the CRCT. Don’t celebrate just yet, however.
A new, harder test — with stakes every bit as high — will be administered this coming school year in grades three through eight.
It’s the Georgia Measures of Academic Progress, and it already has its very own acronym: GMAP.
The new test will be very different from the CRCT. Indeed, testing itself will be different in Georgia.
Not only is the new test expected to be harder and have fewer of the multiple-choice questions that characterized the CRCT, it will be tougher to get a passing score. Georgia is raising the number of questions students must answer correctly to meet the state’s standard of content mastery.
And while the CRCT has been administered with educators serving as proctors, the new test will, eventually, be an entirely online affair. That means fewer students will use paper and pencil to take it. Some educators believe that could make the test less vulnerable to cheating.
Unlike CRCT testing, when schools were essentially locked down as all students took the test, schools will eventually have some students testing while others are getting classroom instruction.
“We’ll have to change the way we think about test administration in our state,” said Melissa Fincher, associate superintendent for assessment and accountability with the state Department of Education. “It’s going to be a major change, and we’re going to have to address test security as well.”
State education officials say one goal of the increased rigor of the test and the higher bar in the state’s standard is providing a more accurate assessment of where Georgia students are academically. They say the state’s low graduation rate and its comparatively low average score on national tests such as the SAT illustrate that the low threshold for meeting the state’s standard — among the lowest in the nation — wasn’t doing Georgia students any favors.
“We need a new assessment program because we have to raise expectations for our students,” Georgia Superintendent John Barge said.
Already, new, tougher courses such as coordinate algebra and analytic geometry are being offered to Georgia students, and the new test will be crafted to test mastery of that type of content.
For teachers, the new test is only the latest major change in public education.
Georgia agreed to go to a new test and to raise its threshold for passing when it sought a waiver from the No Child Left Behind federal education law. That law had its own performance-evaluation system, which is different than the one Georgia subsequently developed.
The education standards in place now are the third set used in the past 15 years in Georgia. And now there’s this new test, which will replace the CRCT as the test used in performance evaluations for teachers, principals, schools and school districts.
Is there weariness among educators from all of the changes?
“There certainly is,” said Tim Callahan, spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators. “Teachers are concerned about the over-testing going on and over the interpreting of the data. NCLB brought with it an almost suffocating regimen of testing that has, in many situations, supplanted emphasis on teaching and learning. We are also using tests to “rate” schools and soon to “rate” teachers – uses that were never intended in the design of the tests, uses that researchers and even the testing companies themselves point out are not valid or reliable.”
Verdaillia Turner, president of the Georgia Federation of Teachers, said teachers aren’t opposed to a new testing format. Teaching to the new academic standards, called Common Core, should help students prepare, she said.
“Teaching students how to apply knowledge is the goal of the Common Core standards that we are using now in the classroom,” Turner said. “If the new tests will reflect this with more open-ended questions, our students will be much better prepared for college and careers. The skill of filling in a bubble on a multiple-choice test has never been a good way to determine student understanding.”
While the specifics of the new test aren’t yet known, its broad contours have been set, Fincher said, adding that some aspects of it have been field-tested for three years.
Last week, the state Board of Education voted to select the company that will develop the test. The name of the company, and of others that bid, won’t be revealed until the contract the board proposed gets final approval from the state Department of Administrative Services.
The new test is expected to be more expensive than the CRCT, which cost $11 million to administer last year. End-of-course tests, given to high school students and some high-achieving middle schoolers, cost $7.1 million to administer.
Because the new tests will have more open-ended questions, instead of all multiple-choice, more of it will be graded by people. That is expected to be more expensive than the electronic system used to grade the CRCT.
The new test’s relationship to Common Core could add a twist to its development.
Common Core has passionate and politically important foes, who see the standards as an intrusion into state control over public education. With opposition to the standards rising, Gov. Nathan Deal ordered the state board to review them.
If the board makes changes to the standards, those changes will have to be reflected on the new test.
State education officials expect more of the testing to be conducted online.
Last year, about 35 percent of the CRCT’s were administered online. In the upcoming school year, state education officials have set a goal of administering 30 percent of the new tests online. By year three, state officials want 80 percent to be administered online. In year five, the goal is for the test to be entirely online.
Some students — those with impaired vision, for example, or those who aren’t physically able to operate a computer — will still be able to take the test with pencil and paper.
J. Alvin Wilbanks, superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools, said moving more of the testing online is a good idea.
“Online testing is much more efficient and secure because you do not have paper materials,” he said. “In addition, portions of online assessment can be scored faster and returned to school systems in a more timely manner. Obviously, there are some concerns about infrastructure and technology to support the online testing for all students.”
Gwinnett has done much of its testing online in recent years and students there are comfortable with that process, Wilbanks said.
Online testing could pose some challenges, said Callahan, who added that educators are concerned about “the very uneven technological capability across the state. There are definitely ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ in terms of hardware, software and bandwidth.”
Fincher said the state is working through all of those challenges and will be ready to crack the seal on its new test next spring.
“It is extremely ambitious,” Fincher said of the state’s plans. “We’re not just re-developing the CRCT. We’re rebuilding the testing system in Georgia.”
By Wayne Washington
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
CRCT vs. GMAP
After 14 years, the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test will no longer be offered to Georgia students. A new test, called the Georgia Measures of Academic Progress, will take its place this upcoming school year. The new test hasn’t been fully developed, but it is expected to be different than the CRCT. Here is a brief look at some of those differences:
– The CRCT and end-of-course testing cost roughly $18 million to administer last year
– GMAP is expected to cost more; precise figures are not yet available
– The CRCT was multiple-choice and graded by a computer
– GMAP will have more open-ended questions that will have to be graded by people
– About 35 percent of the CRCT was administered online in Georgia last year
– State education officials expect that GMAP will be administered entirely online by its fifth year
– The state’s standard for content mastery on the CRCT was among the lowest in the nation
– Georgia is raising the content-mastery standard for GMAP
A new test:
The Georgia Measures of Academic Progress, which students will begin taking next school year, will be:
– Harder to pass
– Costlier to administer
– Graded by people instead of electronically
– Taken mainly online instead of on paper
Parents in Georgia who believe standardized tests have far too much clout in their children’s schooling are joining a growing movement nationwide to “opt out” of them. We’ll tell you why they are demanding that students’ academic achievement and teachers’ performance be gauged in other ways.