Author Archives: Georgia SchoolWatch

The Supremacy of the School Superintendent

Georgia state legislation reinforces the supremacy of the superintendent and their administration. The board hires the superintendent, but serves no purpose after that and may as well disband. Has anybody ever seen a local board of education (or Georgia’s State Board of Education for that matter) vote no on anything … ever? Does a board of education make policy or just approve the policy brought before it by the Superintendent?

If the board of education is going to rubber stamp everything, who is going to hold a school district accountable? I’ve asked the Georgia Department of Education this on numerous occasions, and they consistently insist that the DOE’s role is advisory and not to hold a district accountable for any standards. Perhaps this is why the Governor’s OSD is gaining traction.

Fife Whiteside was elected to the Muscogee County School Board in 1993. He’s been shining a light on the shady operations over there for quite some time. Here’s his latest article … like most articles I see coming out of Muscogee, should be titled “WTF”.

By Fife Whiteside

The school board’s vote to approve the School District budget without the full three percent pay raise promised and funded by the General Assembly, a decision supported by murky and convoluted excuses, perfectly framed the issues that should have been presented in the recent elections.

Didn’t happen. The elections became about personalities and not policy. Hateful and divisive. Violent almost. The truth of how that happened is unclear. Both sides blame the other.

The truth of what happened to the pay raise, however, is clear. The superintendent had the money to fund the raise, which was the legislator’s intent. He just had something else for which he wanted to use the money. Making those hard choices is always involved in school budgeting.

He may have been justified in that, but this is fundamentally a policy issue (what the school district’s priorities are), and part of the board’s job is to question his decision. A background issue is how much school districts can get away with defying state lawmakers and still keep “local control.” The Governor’s Opportunity School District proposal (which would authorize the state to take over perpetually failing schools) comes to mind.

Over the last 10 years the board, often by unanimous vote, has passed every budget without serious question from the majority, sometimes on the basis of “executive summaries” of the budget delivered just before the vote. By contrast, city budgets are routinely picked apart and changed by council. The Natatorium is a good example. What’s the difference?

Having done this for 15 years (1993-2008) during which time the role of the school board morphed to what it is now is, I offer up my two cents.

If the board’s only function were to hire a superintendent, they should disband after that is done and save taxpayers over $100,000 a year in board pay. Historically, the board had two additional major functions, make policy and provide oversight. To enable those functions the law extended them enormous power, including absolute control over the budget. They had the power to extend the full pay raise.

Good intentions notwithstanding, business and civic leadership, and to some extent the media, appear unwilling to tolerate a strong board, one that uses that power; hence, the board is urged to “support the superintendent,” which really means “Shut up and say yes.” Even if it means teachers do not get deserved raises.

That was certainly evident in the recent school board elections. The “establishment candidates”

Pat Green (sister of Isaiah Hugely, city manager) and Cathy Williams (wife of reporter Chuck Williams), won handily, after raising more than $36,102 (over $30 per runoff vote) funded largely by business and civic leaders, including the mayor’s husband.

Why local leadership sees it this way is debatable. Perhaps it comes from a belief that communities cannot select competent boards, going back to the elected vs. appointed board debate.

It may also come from a belief that a community suffers more from the image damage of public debate than from having mediocre schools. Atlanta Superintendent Dr. Beverly Hall was the darling of business and media, even after her indictment for faking test scores, which made the Atlanta schools look better than they are.

When I was on the board, I rather thought that my job was to support the children, not the superintendent. The difference is not semantic. Superintendents are not infallible. You can ask the children of Woodall about that. That should have been fixed a year ago and a functional (rather than a ceremonial) board would have seen that it was. The board should be apologizing to those children, not administrators.

Similarly, superintendents’ ideas are not always aligned with community sentiment. The administration building (sometimes derisively called McPec or Taj Mahal), built for twice what was promised, at a time when many students were in deficient facilities, like Woodall, comes to mind.

Things like unattended schools and palatial administration buildings are anecdotal. The annual loss of large amounts of money, on sloppy, “no bid” or “barely bid” procurement is systemic. Also systemic are failing schools, the administration’s strange tolerance for bullying, and its lack of real candor, like trying to shift the blame for lower raises to the General Assembly.

Having a board with no function other than handing out diplomas at graduation is not the way this was meant to work. The teachers and staff report to the superintendent. He reports to the board. The board reports to the public. The board’s job is to hold the superintendent accountable. When I began to hear board members talking about the superintendents under whom they “had served,” I realized that was lost.

Perhaps in another election we can talk about the role of the board and not about threats to people’s jobs and vulgar accusations of incest. Probably not. I suspect anyone, no matter how “polite,” who runs on a platform of a strong board will encounter well-funded and ardent opposition from those who want the board to do nothing. The children, and not the unsuccessful candidates, end up being the real losers. They, and we, deserve better.

Fife M. Whiteside is a Columbus attorney in private practice.


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Bibb County Opposes State Takeover of Their Failing Schools

Bibb County School District consists of 40 schools (25 Elementary Schools, 8 Middle Schools, and 7 High Schools). According to the most recent list of list of schools eligible for the Opportunity School District (OSD), one in every three schools has been failing for the last 3+ years and are on the list for state takeover.
The Macon Telegraph is reporting that instead of improving their schools, the Bibb County school board is joining the opposition to Gov. Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District proposal.  “No matter what the challenges might be, they are ours,” says former board President Thelma Dillard. “This is our family.”

The Bibb County school board is prepared to join the opposition to Gov. Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District proposal.

Approved by the state Legislature, the Opportunity School District would allow the state to take over as many as 20 schools per year that are deemed to be failing based on College and Career Ready Performance Index scores. The Bibb board is expected to vote on a resolution opposing the measure next month after several members spoke out against Deal’s plan at the board’s regular meeting Thursday.

“I really believe schools do the best when they have local control and local accountability,” board Treasurer Daryl Morton said.

Recently, teachers organizations at the state and local level expressed their opposition to the plan, which will come before Georgia voters on the Nov. 8 ballot. Board Vice President Jason Downey said he was concerned that the expected “disingenuous” wording of the ballot item would mislead voters into thinking the Opportunity School District was something other than what it was.

“That’s why I think it’s important we do something,” Downey said.

In addition to concerns about what would happen to facilities, faculty and leadership if a school was taken over, board members said local officials would have the best chance of resolving local issues.

“Whoever sits on this board is going to know better what the students of Bibb County need,” said Downey, whose tenure on the board will end in December.

Former board President Thelma Dillard, recently re-elected for another term on the board, said it was “unrealistic” to think the state could resolve issues at struggling schools. Any school that has scored less than 60 on the 100-point CCRPI scale for three straight years would be eligible for the list, which would currently include nine Bibb County schools.

“No matter what the challenges might be, they are ours,” Dillard said. “This is our family.”

Board member Tom Hudson agreed with his colleagues in opposing the takeover plan, but he said he would be “remiss” not to note that Bibb County’s schools must achieve at a higher rate. Graduation rates have been on the rise recently, but the district had nine of the 10 Middle Georgia schools on the list for three straight sub-60 CCRPI scores.

“It’s a challenge for us to do better,” Hudson said.

At Thursday’s meeting, the board also voted to form a committee to discuss the name for the combined Northeast High School and Appling Middle School campus on the current Northeast site. The project is expected to cost about $35 million in ESPLOST funding and be completed in the next two years.

Board President Lester Miller said he expected member Ella Carter and representatives from each school would serve on the committee, and other community members would also be brought in for discussions about the name.

“We will be very inclusive,” Miller said.

The board also approved about $786,000 in new playground equipment for 11 elementary schools — Bernd, Burdell-Hunt, Carter, Hartley, Porter, Skyview, Springdale, Taylor, Union and Williams.

The next meeting of the Bibb County school board is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 16, with the committee meeting set for 4 p.m.

School 2013 CCRPI 2014 CCRPI 2015 CCRPI
Appling Middle School (Bibb) 56.1 55.5 51.1
Ballard-Hudson Middle School (Bibb) 51 49.2 47
Brookdale Elementary School (Bibb) 59.2 51 54.3
Bruce Elementary School (Bibb) 58.3 50 48.1
Hartley Elementary School (Bibb) 55.3 55.9 55.9
Ingram-Pye Elementary School (Bibb) 54.5 45.9 55.5
Riley Elementary School (Bibb) 50.9 54.1 57
Southwest High School (Bibb) 42.3 54 58.2
Williams Elementary School (Bibb) 55.9 57.2 57.1
Twiggs County High School 48.3 57.9 59.9

* Data from 2015-16 school year has not been released

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Georgia Lottery’s educational funding hits record high in ‘16

I find the Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship Program fascinating. It is one of the few systematic transfers of money from the lower class to the middle and upper class and cherished by said lower class.

Also, why is college tuition rising so fast? The answer is the people who get the service don’t pay for it. This is called the third-party payment problem, and it’s systemic in education.

Imagine for a moment that there were no public subsidies for education, and parents paid for their kid’s schooling the way we pay for everything else – by shopping around and finding the best quality at the best price. What if there were no government-guaranteed student loans for college or other federal aid to underwrite tuition. Does anyone believe that colleges would cost $30,000 or $40,000 or $50,000? No way.

Anyway, the Atlanta Business Chronicle is reporting that Georgia Lottery’s educational funding hit a record high in fiscal 2016.

By: Erica Relaford
Editorial Intern
Atlanta Business Chronicle

The Georgia Lottery Corp. sent a record $1.1 billion to state educational programs in fiscal 2016.

That’s the first time Georgia Lottery sent more than $1 billion in a year and is more than $117 million ahead of fiscal 2015.

Gov. Nathan Deal with Georgia Lottery CEO Debbie D. Alford, July 20, 2016.

The lottery sends profits to specific educational programs, including Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship Program and Georgia’s Pre-K Program.

“With these funds we’re making possible what some students and their families would never have achieved without the HOPE scholarship programs,” Gov.Nathan Deal said during the transfer at the Georgia Capitol Wednesday morning. “We’re helping them achieve the dream of great education, that all important component, to achieving the overall American dream.”

Since its first year in 1993, the Georgia Lottery Corp. has returned more than $17.6 billion to Georgia for education.

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Black Racists In DeKalb

Racism is steadfast and true in black culture in South DeKalb.

Sharon Barnes Sutton is the incumbent Commissioner from South DeKalb and calls her opponent a “House Slave” in a mailer and points out his white wife in another.

It’s disheartening that this is what plays and this is how the current leadership defines the conversation … always around race.

John Robert Lewis is an American politician and civil rights leader and is currently the representing Congressman for South DeKalb. The DeKalb County School District is building a new school in Brookhaven (not in South DeKalb) and named the new school after John Lewis apparently without discussing this with the community where the school will be located.

It was done in violation of virtually every policy and regulation they have for naming schools. In particular, the board member from the district was not included on the naming committee (as called for in policy), no one from the community was on the committee (as called for in policy), and there was no research about the history of the area (as called for in the regulation). These are only three of, at least, eleven violations of policy/regulation made during this naming process.

The white guy asked the members of the Board of education, “Do you believe Brookhaven would chose to name their new elementary school after John Lewis?” Here are their responses:

Dr. Joyce Morley – “The elephant in the room is the fact that Brookhaven doesn’t want somebody of a different color on their school … It’s because of people with their racist attitudes and mindsets who are afraid to come and deal with it … We need to ask ourselves if it was somebody else’s name, if it was a different persuasion, would we say the same thing. As the Governor of Ohio said, No“.

Vickie Turner – “Brookhaven needs to come into this century and acknowledge John Lewis … We need to grow as people and adults. The best place to start is with our children. It’s to teach them about the historical figures in our history of color.”

Marshall Orson – “It’s apropos to name a school like this after somebody like John Lewis … What was heartening is the parent participants in this process, all of whom were Hispanic were the ones who pushed the idea for naming him.”

Dr. Michael Erwin – “Your comment was, Would Brookhaven have chosen this name if they had the ability to chose?. That is a direct slap in the face of the history of African Americans in this country. I can’t believe you let that out of your mouth.”

Jim McMahan – “I support naming Congressman John Lewis elementary school. I also support the community supporting that. I appreciate Mr. Orson’s advocacy and time spent on this, but if it is a permanent name for the permanent location, I think the challenge was that it was not asked of the permanent community.”

Stan Jester – “My only objection to this was the lack of local control and breaking rules and regulations. I’m disappointed and to some extent offended that when I asked the question, Do you believe this is the name that the Brookhaven community would chose for their elementary school? … If John Lewis is so great, I think we would all say yes. But all of a sudden everybody starts bringing race into this … black and white. I didn’t do that, y’all did that.”

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No Zero Grading Policy

I’ve talked to many Principals in Georgia who have an unwritten no-zero grading policy.  Teachers are instructed to accept late and make-up work or do whatever it takes to get their assignments in.  Looks like Virginia Fairfax County went ahead and made it a public policy.

I’m not sure what to think about this.  Should we give 3rd graders a chance to turn in their book reports late?  Are we excusing bad habits and setting them up for failure in adulthood?

Your school district promotion policy probably makes it effectively impossible for a student to be held back in elementary or middle school.  So, why not give the student every chance to make a grade on their assignment?

Is it becoming too hard to fail? Schools are shifting toward no-zero grading policies
By Moriah Balingit and Donna St. George

School districts in the Washington area and across the country are adopting grading practices that make it more difficult for students to flunk classes, that give students opportunities to retake exams or turn in late work, and that discourage or prohibit teachers from giving out zeroes.

The policies have stirred debates about the purpose of issuing academic grades and whether they should be used to punish, motivate or purely represent what students have learned in class. Some regard it as the latest in a line of ideas intended to keep students progressing through school and heading toward graduation, akin in some ways to practices like social promotion.

Under a new policy in Virginia’s Fairfax County, one of the nation’s largest school systems, middle and high school students can earn no lower than a score of 50 if they make a “reasonable attempt” to complete work. And for the first time this year, high school teachers who were going to fail a student had to reevaluate the student using “quality points,” making an F less detrimental to a student’s final grade. Prince George’s County in Maryland will limit failing grades to a 50 percent minimum score when students show a “good-faith effort.”

Proponents of the changes­ say the new grading systems are more fair and end up being more conducive to learning, encouraging students to catch up when they fall behind rather than just giving up. Many believe that giving a student a score of zero for an F — rather than, say, a score of 50 — on even just one bad assignment can doom students because climbing back to a passing grade can seem almost mathematically impossible. And such failures can put students on a path to dropping out before graduation.

But many are critical of the shift, arguing that teachers are losing important tools to enforce diligence and prepare students for college and the workplace. They say that artificially boosting student grades can mask failure and push students through who don’t know the material they need to know to actually succeed.

 “It reflects this soft bigotry of low expectations around student effort and student behavior,” said Michael Petrilli, president of the Fordham Institute, a right-leaning think tank. He said policies that cut students slack send the message that hard work and homework are not important. “Is it because we think certain groups of kids aren’t capable of them?”

Rick Wormeli, a grading expert who has worked with schools in the D.C. region and across the country, says grading changes are on the rise nationally, including allowing test retakes and revamping grading systems in ways designed to better reflect how much a student has actually learned. He estimates more than half of U.S. schools are investigating such changes­ or have made revisions in recent years. “Not everyone learns the same way or at the same pace,” he said.

The move is intended to give students a chance to recover even if they fail an assignment or a grading period. Some consider a score of zero to be mathematically unjust in any case: a student who earns a zero and then a perfect score on the following assignment has an average of 50 percent — still an F in most grading systems.

“The bottom line is that a zero on the 100-point scale distorts a student’s overall grade,” said Gregory Hood, principal of James Madison High School in Fairfax County. “A zero provides no information about what a student has learned, and it negatively impacts a student’s grade when averaged with other grades.”

Many school systems also are moving toward “standards-based grading,” which emphasizes evaluating students on what they ultimately learn rather than on work habits, student effort, punctuality or homework.

The philosophy has driven Fairfax County to allow students to turn in work late and to retake major exams if they score below 80 percent; the county also limits homework to 10 percent of a student’s grade. Prince George’s officials will not allow behavior or attendance as factors in academic grades and will give students a second chance to improve their score on certain tests or assignments.

 “Grades are really supposed to be about reflecting student achievement,” said Noel Klimenko, director of pre-K through 12th grade curriculum and instruction for Fairfax County schools.

Kevin Hickerson, the president-elect of the Fairfax Education Association, which represents more than 4,000 current and retired school employees, said the new policies push students to keep trying if they do not understand a concept the first time around. It is “erasing the boundaries of time because in the end all teachers are about making sure that students have had proficiency or mastered a concept,” Hickerson said.

Segun Eubanks, chairman of the Prince George’s school board, said that such changes­ are no “magic elixir” for kids who struggle but can keep them engaged, knowing they still have a chance to pass or succeed. “It gives them more opportunities to show their skills and knowledge, and to improve,” he said.

Gaining popularity nationwide, such rethinking of grades already is in place in some individual school districts. Montgomery County has used a “50-percent rule” — prohibiting the use of the lowest failing grades when students make good-faith efforts — for nearly a decade. While teachers have adjusted to the ­changes, some still do not favor the 50-percent rule. And others suggest that the results can be mixed.

Amy Watkins, a math teacher at Montgomery’s Walter Johnson High School, said the practice helps students who really try but may bomb a test; the poor grade counts but it’s not impossible to overcome. The downside, she said, is that it also helps some students earn credit for a course “when they have not mastered any of the content.” Watkins said these are often students who go on to need remedial classes­ in college.

Sam Hedenberg, who teaches English to special education students at Fairfax’s Mount Vernon High School, has seen the new ideas in action. Two years ago, administrators at his school barred teachers from giving zeroes, making the lowest possible score a 53. “It definitely provides that opportunity for a kid to catch up,” Hedenberg said.

But he also has seen students game the system. One student was able to pass his class even though he skipped several essay-writing assignments. “Many students have already started to figure out that they don’t have to do very much but they can still pass,” he said.

Some teachers think that grades absolutely should reflect a student’s work habits — such as whether they participate in class or turn in work on time — and Hedenberg said learning to meet deadlines and to work diligently should be a part of the curriculum.

Theresa Mitchell Dudley, president of the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association, said that 42 to 69 percent of high school teachers who responded to a recent survey voiced concerns about some of the key recommended ­changes.

“We have no problem being fair to students,” she said. “But if they are not doing the work and not performing, and we give them a grade they did not earn, how does that make them college and career ready?”

Dudley said that the union, which represents more than 10,000 employees, is working with district officials to tweak grading proposals and that fairness to students must be balanced with a need for accountability.

“You can’t go to an employer and say, ‘Here’s my work, it’s two weeks late,’ and expect that your boss is not going to fire you,” she said.

Thomas R. Guskey, an education professor at the University of Kentucky who has studied grading, said the standard A through F grading system has remained unchanged for more than a century. He has proposed upending it entirely, arguing that students should get two grades: one that reflects whether a student has mastered the content and a second that evaluates what he calls “process criteria,” things such as whether a student collaborates well, participates in class discussions and turns in work on time. He has piloted the model at several Kentucky schools.

He said school systems should not be taking work habits — such as homework, punctuality and effort — out of the grading equation.

“Those are all really good, but they’re different than achievement, and we need to report them separately,” Guskey said.

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OSD – Governer Deal and the Business Community

Georgia citizens will be voting on the Opportunity School District (OSD) this November. Supporters see this as a way for the state to finally step in do something about perpetually failing schools. Opponents liken this effort to the charter school movement and the privatization of public education.

Educators circled the wagons in opposition to OSD last year. Governor Deal has been busy spending a lot of money on education but slow out of the gate in garnering support for his amendment. Dave Williams writes about the Governor’s plea to the affluent Atlanta business community to support the Opportunity School District referendum. Half of Atlanta Public Schools, by the way, qualify as perpetually failing and are on the list to potentially be taken over.

Gov. Deal asks for business support of school takeover vote
By: Dave Williams covers Government

Gov. Nathan Deal appealed to Atlanta’s business community Monday to help build support for a referendum this fall on a proposal to let the state take over chronically failing schools.

The National Education Association is preparing to spend $1.5 million on an ad campaign opposing a constitutional amendment passed by the General Assembly last year, Deal told members of the Atlanta Rotary Club.

“I don’t understand why people are satisfied with a status quo of chronically under-performing schools,” the governor said. “It is not a power grab by me, as they will argue. … It is a critical step for us to change the dynamics of our education system.”

If voters ratify the constitutional change in November, the state would be permitted to intervene in schools that score below 60 on the Georgia Department of Education’s College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) for three straight years. Such persistent failure would put those schools under the supervision of a statewide “opportunity” school district that would operate them through the governor’s office.

Deal said there are nearly 140 schools that meet those criteria statewide, schools that serve nearly 75,000 students. He cited statistics showing that students relegated to such schools are more likely to end up in prison than students who attend higher-achieving schools.

“Their chances of graduating [high school] are significantly diminished,” he said. “Chances are they’re going to become the fodder of our prison system.”

The legislation cleared the General Assembly largely along party lines. Democrats argued giving the state the power to take over failing schools wouldn’t solve the underlying problems of poverty and under-investment in education affecting student progress.

But the constitutional amendment won widespread support from business groups, picking up endorsements from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and others.

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Filed under Legislation, Nathan Deal, Opportunity School District

Repercussions for districts and students who opt out of state tests

APRIL 11, 2016 – Parents Opt Out of Georgia Milestones
Kay Draper Hutchinson, a former school counselor, recently published these thoughts and instructions on how to opt out of the Georgia Milestones.

MAY 15, 2014 – Georgia’s movement to opt out of high stakes tests gains momentum
A small but increasingly vocal group of parents in Georgia are urging state leaders to give their children the choice to “opt out” of taking the high-stakes tests in schools without being penalized for doing so.

School administrators ask students to take the Georgia Milestones

standardized testing
Georgia Legislation

Last year the state did not enforce Georgia statute requiring grade level performance on the state standardized tests for graduation or promotion to the next grade in 3rd, 5th and 8th grades. It is unclear if the state will waive those requirements again.

While school district administrators want to serve the public, they must also follow the law. The path of least resistance is to encourage students and parents to not opt out of the Georgia Milestones standardized tests.

Tim Jarboe, director of assessment and accountability for the Clarke County School District, makes a plea to the public to not opt out of the Georgia Milestones.

In Georgia, state law has authorized heavy penalties for those who don’t take the tests, according to Jarboe.

Laws are changing, but for now, the old rules remain in effect.

In high school, the so-called “Georgia Milestones” end-of-course tests count as final exams, and are worth 20 percent of the course grade, Jarboe told a recent meeting of the Clarke County Parent Advisory Board.

If students don’t take the test, they lose those points, and “such a student would receive a grade that does not reflect his or her true achievement,” Jarboe said.
In elementary and middle schools, students in grades 3, 5 and 8 who opt out of testing in reading and math are counted as failing, though parents can appeal.

Opting out can also affect the scores teachers, administrators and schools get in a grading system the state has instituted, Jarboe said.

Test scores count for 50 percent of a teacher’s grade and 70 percent of an administrators’ grade; students opting out of testing could affect those scores either up or down, depending on whether the students opting out might have scored high or low on the Milestones.

And schools where fewer than 95 percent of students take a test can’t get any “achievement points” from the state in that particular subject area. Those achievement points are part of a complex formula the state uses to gauge how well schools are performing, called the “College and Career Ready Performance Index,” or CCRPI.

“Low CCRPI scores can lead to the federal designation as a “Focus” or “Priority” school, which creates a layer of mandates that the school is required to implement or can lead to the placement on the “Opportunity School District” list if the OSD constitutional amendment is passed next November,” Jarboe wrote in an email.

Neither the Georgia Department of Education nor the local board of education has the authority to waive the testing requirements set forth by the legislature, Jarboe said.

School principals will work with parents who want to opt their children out, he said.

“Public school leaders are literally ‘caught in the middle’ as they are technically required to follow federal and state mandates in regards to student participation in state testing programs and working with parents to honor the parent’s concern about the socio-emotional welfare of their children and how high-stakes testing affects their child,” Jarboe said. “Our principals work very hard to make sure that the decision about testing does not negatively affect the child.”

And according to the Georgia Department of Education website, it’s important for students to take the standardized tests:

“State tests are critical for measuring student learning and ensuring that all of Georgia’s students receive a high-quality education,” according to the Georgia DOE. “The results from state tests provide the public with much needed information about how all students are performing. Student test scores are the foundation of Georgia’s College and Career Readiness Index (CCRPI) and district/school report cards, which are designed to show parents, taxpayers, communities, and school leaders how well students are achieving. Allowing for comparisons between districts and schools is important given the amount of public tax dollars spent to support Georgia’s public education system.”

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