Delay new test, says Republican school chief candidate

The candidates vying to lead Georgia’s K-12 education agency split on a set of national academic standards the state is implementing and tried to appeal to teachers Tuesday during their first debate of the general election.

Republican Richard L. Woods wants a two-year delay of the new standardized test Georgia is moving to this school year.

Woods, a retired educator from Irwin County who is running for state school superintendent, called for the delay during a debate Tuesday against his Democratic rival, Valarie Wilson.

The debate, hosted by the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, was heavy on detailed policy and featured no interaction between the candidates. Wilson, the former chairwoman of the City Schools of Decatur school board, largely stuck to the script she used to win the Democratic nomination: more state funding for school districts, staying with the national set of academic standards known as Common Core and making public education a higher priority.

Wilson, participating in the debate on her 56th birthday, did not join Woods’ call for delaying the new test.

Only Republicans have been elected to statewide office in recent years. If Woods continues that trend and wins, his policy suggestions could shake up public education in Georgia.

“We are implementing something that has not been fully field tested,” Woods said of the new test.

John Barge, the current superintendent — who defeated Woods when the two ran against each other in the Republican primary four years ago — disputed that. “That’s completely misinformed,” Barge said, adding that questions from the new test have been field tested for several years.

In addition to postponing the new standardized test, Woods said he’d be open to allowing districts to take one of two tests — one that would assess student progress in the new ‘integrated’ math that has raised hackles in some districts and another that would include standard or ‘traditional’ math.

The math part of the new test being planned is based on the ‘integrated’ model, though some districts teach traditional math.

Georgia was in a group of states developing a new test tied to Common Core. But state leaders pulled Georgia out of the group, citing the likely cost of that test. Barge said he and his staff anticipated that when he took office, and, “We’ve been working on Plan B” — the alternative test to be rolled out this year — “for years.”

Barge also threw cold water on the notion of offering two standardized tests.

CTB/McGraw Hill has a five-year, $107.8 million contract with Georgia to create the new standardized test, to be called Georgia Milestones. Offering a second test would mean paying a lot more.

“We can’t afford to offer both assessments,” Barge said … “It’s just not logical.”

Although some superintendents have concerns about the new test, which is expected to be tougher to pass, no superintendent wants his or her school board, not to mention parents, to believe the district is afraid of a more rigorous assessment.

Already, superintendents are answering questions from frustrated parents who wonder why end-of-course test scores in integrated math courses like coordinate algebra and analytic geometry are so low.

One worry is that “we can see some pretty low pass rates,” said Garrett Wilcox, superintendent of schools in Vidalia City. Those low scores will give parents and others the false impression that teachers are not performing well, Wilcox said.

“These teachers are working harder than they ever have with a more needy population” of students, Wilcox said.

That’s a point Wilson made frequently during Tuesday’s debate.

“I think the state of Georgia has some of the best teachers in this country,” Wilson said. “It’s critically important that we continue to invest in these teachers.”

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