SLOs – Georgia eases teacher testing rules, for now

Georgia public school students won’t have to take as many tests in the upcoming school year, the state Department of Education announced Monday.

Specifically, schools won’t have to administer as many so-called “Student Learning Objectives” tests, or SLOs, State School Superintendent Richard Woods announced.

“I have always believed that we test our students too much,” Woods said in a statement. “Eliminating some of the Student Learn

ing Objectives is a step toward reducing the overall number of tests given to students, which will give our teachers more time for instruction and help our students focus on learning instead of testing. This change is another step toward a more responsible accountability model.”

The SLOs, first implemented during the 2014-15 school year, are part of a new regime for grading teachers mandated by the General Assembly and Gov. Nathan Deal. They’re supposed to measure how much progress students make during the course of a school year, and according to state law count for half of a teacher’s job performance assessment,

In basic courses such as reading and math, so-called student growth is to be measured with new standardized tests called Georgia Milestones, which are the same for students across the state.

Students take Milestones tests at the end of the year in elementary and middle grades, or at the end of eight specified courses such as algebra and U.S. history in high school. But in most courses — art, physical education and foreign languages, for example — the state left it up to individual school district to develop or adopt their own SLO tests. The purpose is to grade teachers, and scores can’t be compared from school district to school district.

Last year’s rules required some teachers to administer up to six SLOs to their students, depending on how many subjects they were teaching.

But under the optional new program, teachers won’t have to administer as many. Teachers in school districts that received grants under the federal Race to the Top education program won’t have to administer more than two tests.

Teachers in school districts not part of Race to the Top, such as Clarke County, won’t have to administer more than one.

The effect the change will have varies from school district to school district, judging from initial assessments from two area school districts.

In Clarke County, the rule change could reduce the number of SLOs high school students take by 25 percent and possibly more, said Tim Jarboe, director of assessment and accountability for the Clarke County School District. In earlier grades, the optional new requirement won’t make much difference, he said.

But in Madison County, it may not reduce the number of SLO tests significantly, said superintendent Allen McCannon.

“It’s a nice gesture, but it’s not really helping us,” he said.

One reason it won’t make a lot of difference in Madison County is that in many courses, the SLO test also counts as a final test for the course itself, said Cathy Gruetter, Madison county’s testing coordinator and elementary curriculum director.

Things might change again next year, however.

Under the state’s planned testing regime for 2015-2016, all teachers must have two so-called “growth measures,” including districts like Clarke County in which teachers are now only required to have one, Jarboe explained.

“My concern is next year,” he said.

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