Category Archives: Teacher Evaluations

Governor’s education reformers take aim at teacher pay scales

Georgia teachers have been paid for decades by a predictable salary scale, but that could change as a panel working for Gov. Nathan Deal considers an overhaul of education policy.

Teachers get automatic raises as they gain experience and earn advanced degrees, but Deal’s Education Reform Commission is talking about a new way to fund school districts that would ignore those factors.

The idea is to pay more for better student outcomes or for high-demand fields such as science or math.

Districts currently are reimbursed by the state based on where each of their teachers falls on the pay scale. Those districts with longer-serving and more highly-credentialed teachers get more money. The proposal would give every district the same amount for each teacher.

So some districts would get less, which could encourage them to abandon the pay scale.

Erin Hames said the state funding law could be rewritten so that current teachers’ pay is unaffected, but she acknowledged Thursday that most districts will soon be able to ignore such a requirement.

That’s because all but two of the state’s 180 districts are either applying to become, or have already been approved as, “flexibility” districts. This gives them the power to ignore costly state mandates such as maximum class sizes, 180-day school calendars — or teacher pay scales.

The funding proposal is far from a done deal. The commission would have to recommend it to Deal, who would then find a champion in the General Assembly to pass it into law. Deal gave the commission, which continues to study the effects of the proposed changes, a December deadline to make final recommendations.

Craig Harper, spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, one of the state’s teacher advocacy groups, said pay is a “big issue” for teachers, but it is unclear now how the proposal would affect each teacher. Some stand to make more money, but others possibly less. He said that creates uncertainty that can hinder recruitment and retention.

Deal needs a way to pay for his reforms without forcing an increase in the amount of state money that goes towards education, and eliminating the pay scale is one way to do that.

Charles Knapp, who is leading the commission, says it must figure out how to divide money the state has for education rather than recommending a formula that mandates an increase in spending.

Proponents of a pay scale overhaul say it could inject new life and enthusiasm into the teaching ranks, encouraging excellence. Others caution that Georgia’s teacher evaluation system may not accurately portray performance.

The evaluation system is built on student test results and teacher observations. However, there have been questions about the fairness of using test results to measure teacher performance because of factors beyond their control, such as student poverty.

“It sounds exciting,” said Dick Yarbrough, a retired business executive with teachers in his family, and a member of Deal’s commission. “The question is the quality of evaluations.”

By Ty Tagami
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


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New rules require Georgia to rate teacher-prep programs

Georgia and states across the nation will be required to develop a system to measure teacher-training programs in the latest attempt by the Obama administration to address teacher quality.

The U.S. Department of Education announced regulations Tuesday that will require states to rate teacher-preparation programs by 2016, both those at colleges and universities and non-traditional kinds such as Teach for America.

“Nothing in school matters as much as the quality of teaching the students receive,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan on a conference call. “We owe it to teachers to give them the best preparation possible.”

States will be allowed to develop their own system but it will have to include a these key components:

– Employment: How many new teachers landed jobs and how many worked in schools and high-need schools after three years?

– Feedback: Surveys on how well new teachers are performing in schools.

– Student performance: How well are the students of these new teachers performing as measured by academic growth, a teacher’s evaluation or both?

– Accreditation: Is the program accredited or is there evidence it is producing high-quality candidates?

Georgia this year passed its own series of new rules making it more difficult for teachers to enter the classroom. Would-be teachers will have to do more upon leaving a prep program, such as score higher on tests measuring how well they know the subject they’re teaching. They’ll also have to pass a new assessment — one only a few states use — to determine whether they can teach.

The significant changes come as Georgia students’ standardized test scores continue to lag other states, consistently ranking in the bottom quarter. Students’ poor academic performance can be tied to teacher quality, according to education experts and advocates, who say Georgia has not kept pace with states that have introduced more rigorous certification requirements and teacher-preparation programs.

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The problem with using tests to rate music, art and gym teachers

For the first time this year, all Georgia teachers will be rated in part on student test results.

That’s straightforward enough for teachers whose students take state standardized tests. But the majority of teachers – in subjects like art, music and gym – teach subjects and grades that aren’t covered by such high-stakes tests.

For them, many school districts have come up with their own exams. Educators and research suggest that system isn’t good enough for evaluations that could make or break careers.

The new system for rating these teachers is open to cheating, educators say, because in some cases teachers administer and grade the very tests used to evaluate them. The quality of tests varies by district, meaning a Spanish teacher in Gwinnett could be graded differently than one in Atlanta. And there are concerns about fairness, because research shows teachers of non-state tested subjects tend to score lower than those who teach courses where state standardized tests are given.

Georgia Department of Education deputy superintendent Avis King said the department is aware of the concerns and taking steps to address them.

“That’s why we are being very careful and cautious as we move forward,” she said.

The state’s plan is part of a new educator evaluation system which bases about half of teachers’ job ratings on an administrator watching them teach and about half on their students’ academic growth.

For teachers of grades and subjects covered by state tests, including math, English, social studies and science, students’ growth is measured by state tests.

For about 70 percent of teachers, whose areas are not covered by state tests, it’s often measured by tests their own districts design.

The new system could change. Georgia’s incoming state school superintendent, Richard Woods, has said test scores should play a smaller role in teacher evaluations. And Georgia has asked the U.S. Department of Education for a delay in using the new overall ratings for decisions about hiring, firing and pay. But they’ll still be used this year to determine which educators in 26 districts receiving federalRace to the Top money get millions of dollars in bonuses.Educators have told the Georgia Department of Education there are problems with how teachers of non-state tested subjects are evaluated, state reports on districts already using the new system show.

The tests and the cut-off scores that place teachers at different rating levels vary from district to district. Some districts — like Atlanta Public Schools — use multiple-choice tests to evaluate all teachers. Other districts combine multiple choice tests with other kinds of tests, like essays or how well music students, for example, play a C-major scale.

The state has sample materials to help guide districts in setting goals for student growth in different classes.

Carrie Staines, a teacher at Druid Hills High School in DeKalb County, said the quality of test questions in her district is poor. She should know: She was among the DeKalb teachers who volunteered to help write them. The Advanced Placement psychology test she wrote with two other teachers is far too short, at 20 questions, and reflects only “random” tidbits of knowledge that isn’t necessarily crucial, she said.

State officials say the new system isn’t supposed to be used to compare teachers in different districts. The idea is to measure how much students “grow” in every classroom, said Michele Purvis, an evaluation system specialist with the Georgia Department of Education.

“They’re not designed to compare this British lit class in this district to a British lit class in another district,” she said.

Another issue educators are concerned about: Student growth ratings for teachers of areas not covered by state tests tend to be lower than those for teachers of state-tested subjects, according to a 2014 University of Georgia research report.

In some cases, the lower scores could be due to initial miscalculations in districts’ expectations, said King, the state department of education official. “There’s a learning curve involved” with the new tests, she said.

And in some districts, teachers administer and grade the tests that are used to evaluate them. The state monitors its standardized tests in math, reading and other areas for cheating, but security for these new, local tests is left up to individual districts. So far, the number of potential test-security problems reported has been “relatively low,” King said.

But Melissa King Rogers, an English teacher at Druid Hills High School in DeKalb County, said “I think it’s just wide open to the sorts of scandals we’ve seen in APS.”

She was referring to the test-cheating scandal that resulted in the indictment of 35 former Atlanta Public Schools employees and allegations of secret answer-erasure parties and other subterfuge.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked Bill Slotnik, executive director of the nonprofit Community Training and Assistance Center, which has helped dozens of states develop ways of evaluating teachers, if Georgia’s method for teachers of areas not covered by state standardized tests is fair and likely to be effective.

“Fairness, like beauty, tends to be in the eye of the beholder,” he said.

But Georgia’s system appears to be running into challenges, he said. Georgia would do better to show educators how a new evaluation system could improve instruction, he said, and involve teachers directly in finding better ways to teach students and reach the goals set under the new system.

“The more these kinds of things don’t happen, the more” the evaluation process “or any other reform just becomes a compliance activity,” he said.

Staff writer Jeff Ernsthausen contributed to this article.

Other states do it

Georgia is one of about 20 states using student academic growth as a major factor in rating teachers. In Georgia and other states, new teacher evaluation systems were part of applications for federal Race to the Top grants.

How good is your 8th-grade band teacher?

Georgia’s new teacher rating system bases about half of teachers’ job ratings on an administrator watching them teach and half on their students’ academic growth.

For example, to measure “student growth” in an 8th-grade band class, students might take a three-part test at the start of school and again in April. The test could include playing two major scales, a sight-reading exercise and a multiple-choice test.

About half of the teacher’s overall job rating depends on how much test scores from students in their classes improve from the start of school to the end.

Source: Georgia Department of Education sample student learning objective statement

By Molly Bloom and Ty Tagami
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


Filed under Teacher Evaluations

APS Revives Bonus Program

Atlanta Public Schools is once again tying teacher and principal pay to student performance as are five more metro Atlanta school districts. The others are Cherokee, Clayton, DeKalb, Gwinnett and Rockdale counties, according to the Georgia Department of Education.

Atlanta’s last performance-pay program ended in 2011 after state investigators found evidence of widespread cheating.

Thirty-five former Atlanta district employees, including former superintendent Beverly Hall, were indicted last year, accused of a conspiracy to cheat on state standardized tests. Prosecutors allege they boosted scores to meet performance targets in part because, for many, bonuses and raises were tied to the targets. Twelve former employees are on trial now.

“You wouldn’t think they would do that, considering the last debacle they had,” attorney Gerald Griggs said. He represents teacher Angela Williamson in the cheating trial.

Setting up a performance-pay plan was required under the federal Race to the Top grant Atlanta and the other districts received.

Bonuses under Atlanta’s new program will be based on Georgia’s new educator evaluation system. It bases half of a teacher’s overall job rating on student academic growth, measured by state or local tests, and half on classroom observations. For principals, 70 percent of the rating is based on student academic growth and progress in closing the achievement gap among various student subgroups and 30 percent on observations.

Under the old program, bonuses for school employees were based primarily on meeting targets for changes in state test results from year to year, according to a 2011 state investigative report.

Here’s how Atlanta’s new program will work:

• Teachers who score in the top 10 percent districtwide on the new evaluation system will receive $2,500. Principals and assistant principals will receive $2,300. (The average Atlanta teacher salary is $58,640. The average principal salary is $100,051.)

• Teachers with a top rating on classroom observations but who don’t have a rating based on student test scores will receive $2,500. (A teacher might have only one of the two evaluation components because, for example, the teacher is new or has been on a medical leave.)

• Any money left over will be distributed in bonuses of at least $1,000 to teachers who score among the top 11 to 30 percent on the new evaluation system.

For teachers of subjects covered by state standardized tests — about 30 percent of teachers — half of their evaluations will be based on the previous year’s test scores, because of the timing of state data releases.

District officials estimate 400-500 teachers and about 20-25 administrators will receive bonuses under the program, which will be overseen by Chief Human Resources Officer Pamela Hall.

Atlanta was required to launch the new performance-pay program because it accepted some of Georgia’s federal Race to the Top money, a decision made before superintendent Meria Carstarphen was hired. The $1.6 million performance-pay program is funded entirely by Race to the Top.

All 26 Georgia Race to the Top school districts plan to launch performance-pay programs, according to the Georgia Department of Education.

These scattered programs are a dramatically scaled-back version of the comprehensive performance-pay program Georgia promised in its application for $400 million in Race to the Top money. Georgia’s failure to fully follow through on that promise led the U.S. Department of Education to withhold $10 million in grant money.

The Atlanta school board has not identified a way to fund the program after this year or made it a priority for next year’s budget.

The program’s short term calls into question whether it’s a wise allocation of resources, said Matthew Springer, director of Vanderbilt University’s National Center on Performance Incentives.

“It’s hard to say if this program will bring any changes, given that it’s only being implemented for a single year and it’s treating teachers differently based on whether they teach in a tested subject or grade,” he said.

And, as Atlanta has learned, any performance-pay program has the potential to incentivize the wrong behavior.

Carstarphen said district staff are working with teachers and principals to identify ways to improve instruction and prevent bonuses from being the sole driver of their work. But she said she isn’t sure how the program will play out.

“It’s an opportunity and it’s a risk at the same time to do merit pay in APS without having a chance to rebuild the culture and work with people to understand how careful and thoughtful they have to be about how they do this in the classroom,” she said.

Attorney Angela Johnson represents teacher Pamela Cleveland, one of the 12 on trial. Johnson said the case against Atlanta teachers isn’t about pay for performance. Some of those indicted received bonuses less than $500. Eight didn’t receive bonus money.

“I don’t think it’s an issue with the teachers. Why would they throw away a career for $500?” she asked. The bigger issue, she said, are the bonuses superintendents can earn as test scores rise.

Hall collected more than five times as much bonus pay as the other 34 original defendants combined. In all, Hall received more than $580,000 in extra pay in the dozen years she was superintendent. The contract the Atlanta school board signed with Carstarphen earlier this year does not include performance bonuses.

Race to the Top Districts

Twenty-six school districts will pay out educator bonuses this spring: Atlanta, Ben Hill, Bibb, Burke, Carrolton, Chatham, Cherokee, Clayton, Dade, DeKalb, Dougherty, Gainesville, Gwinnett, Hall, Henry, Meriwether, Muscogee, Peach, Pulaski, Rabun, Richmond, Rockdale, Spalding, Treutlen, Valdosta and White

Source: Georgia Department of Education

Atlanta performance-pay plan

APS will allocate $1.6 million in Race to the Top money in three tiers:

  1. Bonuses of $2,500 (teachers) and $2,300 (principals and assistant principals) to those scoring in the top 10 percent on their overall job ratings.
  2. Bonuses of $2,500 to teachers who receive a top rating on their classroom observation but do not have an overall rating.
  3. Any remaining money will be distributed in bonuses of at least $1,000 to teachers who score in the top 11-30th percent on their job ratings.

By Molly Bloom
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Georgia could delay impact of teacher evaluation system

Georgia teachers who receive poor scores on their job evaluations this year may be forgiven under a proposal the state Department of Education plans to make to the federal government.

The state was set to roll out a high-stakes teacher evaluation system this year that bases half of teachers’ job ratings on students’ academic growth, as measured in some grades and subjects through standardized tests. The new system influences decisions about hiring, firing, certification and — for some — pay. It’s tied to a $400 million federal grant called Race to the Top and to Georgia’s request for freedom from some requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

But State School Superintendent John Barge told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he plans to ask federal permission to delay the consequences of the new system. Teachers would still be evaluated under it, as required by state law. But the results would not be used for what the Georgia Department of Education called “high-stakes decisions.”

Department spokesman Matt Cardoza said Georgia was waiting for federal guidance to determine which decisions would be considered high-stakes.

Barge said the decision to seek the delay was based on educators’ concerns about increasing demands on teachers and schools. Those include new tests, relatively new standards and this new evaluation system.

“The issue I continue to hear is that the timeline for full implementation of the reform efforts has converged and that you are concerned that rushing these initiatives may have a detrimental effect on the quality of the final implementation,” he wrote in an Aug. 29 letter to school superintendents.

Even if the delay is granted, individual districts could chose to use the evaluation results for personnel decisions. And performance pay programs in districts participating in Race to the Top grants will continue, Cardoza said.

Georgia is one of about 20 states using students’ academic growth as a major factor in evaluating teachers. Policymakers say the new system will do a better job of identifying great teachers as well as teachers who are struggling, replacing a system where nearly all teachers were rated satisfactory.

In August, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that states that had received No Child Left Behind waivers could ask to delay, likely until next school year, making students’ academic growth part of teacher evaluation systems.

“A one-year delay is not ideal, but it doesn’t mean the end of the program,” said Michael O’Sullivan, state outreach director for education advocacy group StudentsFirst Georgia, which has been a strong supporter of the new system. “As long as we’re able to get this plan in action and off the ground, that’s what we’ll be working for.”

Georgia’s new teacher evaluation system bases half of a teacher’s job evaluation on a principal or other administrator watching him or her teach. The rest is based on students’ academic growth. For teachers of subjects covered by state tests — about a third of teachers statewide — that “growth” is measured by standardized tests. For other teachers, district-designed measures will be used.

Some educators worry that the new system puts too much weight on a measure based on standardized tests and that the administrators won’t have enough time to make the classroom observations.

Georgia is waiting on more information from the U.S. Department of Education on how to apply for the delay, Georgia Department of Education officials said.

Professional Association of Georgia Educators spokesperson Tim Callahan said he thought Georgia made the right move in seeking the delay because it will give educators more time to put the system in place, and perhaps more time to make what he said were needed changes.

“All along we’ve been saying that it’s such a critical issue that we need to do this well rather than fast,” he said.

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US Ed Secretary: ‘Testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools’

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan joined the growing chorus of teachers and parents lamenting the role of testing in American schools, outlining in his blog that he has heard the concerns and has authorized a one-year delay in incorporating student scores in teacher evaluations.

(A Georgia Department of Education spokesman told me DOE has made no decision on whether it will delay using student scores in evaluations, saying, “It’s very early to say anything for certain about this as we just found out about this late last week. We will be discussing it to come up with the next step.”)

 This is an excerpt of Duncan’s essay, followed by a statement from Gwinnett school chief J. Alvin Wilbanks and another superintendent.

First, Duncan’s comments:

There are three main issues I’ve heard about repeatedly from educators:

•It doesn’t make sense to hold them accountable during this transition year for results on the new assessments – a test many of them have not seen before – and as many are coming up to speed with new standards.

•The standardized tests they have today focus too much on basic skills, not enough on critical thinking and deeper learning.

•Testing – and test preparation – takes up too much time.

I share these concerns. And I want our department to be part of the solution.

To those who are reading the last sentence with surprise let me be clear: assessment is a vital part of teaching and learning, but it should be one part (and only one part) of how adults hold themselves responsible for students’ progress. Schools, teachers and families need and deserve clear, useful information about how their students are progressing. As a parent of two children in public school, I know I want that. And in fact, most teachers and principals I talk with want to be held responsible for students’ progress – through a sensible, smart combination of factors that reflect their work with students – not the level students came in at, or factors outside of their control.

But assessment needs to be done wisely. No school or teacher should look bad because they took on kids with greater challenges. Growth is what matters. No teacher or school should be judged on any one test or tests alone – always on a mix of measures – which could range from classroom observations to family engagement indicators.

In Nevada, educators include a teacher’s contribution to the school community in their measures; in Hawaii, schools consider student feedback surveys and professional growth, such as leading workshops or taking university coursework). Educators in Delaware look at measures of planning and preparation such as lesson plans and descriptions of instructional strategies to be used for students with diverse needs. Federal policy rightly stays out of picking those individual measures, but ensures that in evaluating teachers, states and districts include student growth, and consider multiple measures.

But the larger issue is, testing should never be the main focus of our schools. Educators work all day to inspire, to intrigue, to know their students – not just in a few subjects, and not just in “academic” areas. There’s a whole world of skills that tests can never touch that are vital to students’ success. No test will ever measure what a student is, or can be. It’s simply one measure of one kind of progress. Yet in too many places, testing itself has become a distraction from the work it is meant to support.

I believe testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools – oxygen that is needed for a healthy transition to higher standards, improved systems for data, better aligned assessments, teacher professional development, evaluation and support, and more. This is one of the biggest changes education in this country has ever seen, and teachers who’ve worked through it have told me it’s allowed them to become the best teachers they’ve ever been. That change needs educators’ full attention.

That’s why – as I shared in a conversation with dozens of teachers at Jefferson Middle School in Washington, D.C. earlier today – we will be taking action in the coming weeks that give states more flexibility in key areas that teachers have said are causing worry.

States will have the opportunity to request a delay in when test results matter for teacher evaluation during this transition. As we always have, we’ll work with them in a spirit of flexibility to develop a plan that works, but typically I’d expect this to mean that states that request this delay will push back by one year (to 2015-16) the time when student growth measures based on new state assessments become part of their evaluation systems – and we will work with states seeking other areas of flexibility as well.

We want to make sure that they are still sharing growth data with their teachers, and still moving forward on the other critical pieces of evaluation systems that provide useful feedback to educators.  We will be working in concert with other educators and leaders to get this right. These changes are incredibly important, and educators should not have to make them in an atmosphere of worry. Some states will choose to take advantage of that flexibility; others, especially those that are well along in this transition, will not need a delay.

The bottom line is that educators deserve strong support as our schools make vital, and urgently needed, changes. As many educators have pointed out, getting this right rests also on high-quality assessments. Many educators, and parents, have made clear that they’re supportive of assessment that measures what matters – but that a lot of tests today don’t do that – they focus too much on basic skills rather than problem solving and critical thinking. That’s why we’ve committed a third of a billion dollars to two consortia of states working to create new assessments that get beyond the bubble test, and do a better job of measuring critical thinking and writing.

I’m concerned, too, when I see places where adults are gaming tests, rather than using them to help students.

And we also need to recognize that in many places, the sheer quantity of testing – and test prep – has become an issue. In some schools and districts, over time tests have simply been layered on top of one another, without a clear sense of strategy or direction. Where tests are redundant, or not sufficiently helpful for instruction, they cost precious time that teachers and kids can’t afford. Too much testing can rob school buildings of joy, and cause unnecessary stress. This issue is a priority for us, and we’ll continue to work throughout the fall on efforts to cut back on over-testing.

There’s plenty of responsibility to share on these challenges, and a fair chunk of that sits with me and my department. We encouraged states to move a whole lot of changes simultaneously, because of the enormous urgency to raise standards and improve systems of teacher support – not for another generation of students, but for today’s students.

But in how this change happens, we need to listen carefully to the teachers, principals and other educators who are living it on a daily basis – and we need to be true to our promise to be tight on outcomes, but loose on how we get there.

From my first day on this job, the objective has been to work in a spirit of flexibility to help states and communities improve outcomes for kids. We need to make changes, but we are also making progress. I’m determined that, working in partnership, we’ll continue to do both – be flexible and make progress for our kids.

Change is hard, and changes of significance rarely work exactly as planned. But in partnership, making course alterations as necessary, we will get there.

 The Duncan statement drew response from the Large Countywide and Suburban District Consortium, a network of leaders from 16 of the nation’s most diverse and high achieving districts. Consortium Chair J. Alvin Wilbanks, superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools, and Co‐chair Joshua P. Starr, superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, issued the following statement:

“We agree with Secretary Duncan that there is too much focus on testing in education today — it is something that we hear every day from our parents, our teachers, and our students. We also agree with the Secretary that meaningful assessments are a critical part of good teaching and learning — but only if the tests are valid measures of what students know and are able to do and accountability measures are focused on fostering improvement. With so much change happening in education, we need to take the time to get things right and that means reducing the pressure of high‐stakes tests.

“We have a once‐in‐a‐generation opportunity to improve education, with new, rigorous standards and the development of stronger curricula and assessments to raise the level of instruction in our country. But to take full advantage of this opportunity, we must give our teachers and school leaders the time they need to implement the standards and prepare students for success.

“We have seen first‐hand the impact of policies that rely too heavily on standardized assessments and how our students, teachers, and parents bear the burden of these ill‐advised accountability systems. It is critically important that we work together to use the right assessments to measure student learning and to, in turn, hold ourselves accountable for meeting the needs of our students.

“We agree with Secretary Duncan that new assessments need to be developed carefully and wisely and we appreciate his recognition that educator evaluations should be based on multiple measures. It make sense that states have been given the opportunity to request a delay in the use of test results of educator evaluations as they transition to better measures of student performance.

“The time has come for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to be reauthorized and our state and federal accountability systems to be aligned with the skills and knowledge that students will need to be successful in the 21st century. The Consortium has developed a proposed accountability framework that includes high‐quality systems of assessment; multiple measures to assess the performance of schools and districts; and policies and funding streams designed to encourage collaboration and creativity.

“The Consortium stands ready to work with Secretary Duncan and Congress on the reauthorization of ESEA and an accountability system that is meaningful, educationally sound, and is focused on what is right for children.”

By Maureen Downey

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New standardized test, end-of-course exams won’t be used for promotion

Georgia students’ promotion and failure won’t be tied to a new standardized test this school year. State officials have reduced the first-year impact of the $108-million assessment they are pushing to finalize, eight months before it is to be administered for the first time.

In addition, end-of-course tests tied to the new assessment won’t account for 20 percent of a high school student’s final grade, as those tests did in the past.

Lowering the stakes on a new standardized test is not unusual, state officials note, saying that care must be taken to make sure the test is fair and administration procedures are smooth.

The sweeping changes to Georgia’s new test, approved during a recent meeting of the state Board of Education, will affect 375,000 elementary and middle school students and about 900,000 high school students, and they raise questions about the quick switch from the old Criterion-Referenced Competency Test. State officials have said the new test, to be called Georgia Milestones, will require more writing and will be harder to pass.

This year, students in grades three, five and eight won’t have to perform at grade level on the reading portion of the test to be promoted. Fifth- and eighth-graders also won’t have to perform at grade level on the math portion to be promoted.

Students who failed those tests in the past could appeal to local panels, which often approved the students’ promotion, state education department spokesman Matt Cardoza said.

Local school districts are encouraged to develop their own policies to determine which students are promoted and which are held back this school year.

State education officials said they anticipated the need to lower the stakes of the test during its first year. And they say that is wise.

“Taking the time to ensure all protocols and procedures, including standard setting, are in place prior to releasing scores is very common and is always important for new assessment systems,” said Melissa Fincher, associate superintendent for assessment and accountability for the state Department of Education. “Most states experience a delay the first year when implementing a new assessment system. Such a delay is not an indication of a state’s readiness – it is a necessity.”

The CRCT was given for 14 years in Georgia, and some superintendents worry that, with a new and different test, administration procedures haven’t been finalized.

“The state has not yet provided a testing blueprint to school districts,” said Robert Avossa, Fulton County’s superintendent. “Teachers should start the year fully informed, and, without the blueprints, they don’t have complete information to guide their instruction throughout the year.”

Fincher said the state is still working to establish assessment procedures.

“It is important that we take the time necessary to ensure everything is sound given the implications for both students and educators alike,” she said.

The new test will improve over time and will help educators pinpoint areas of student need, said Jonathan Patterson, associate superintendent for curriculum and instructional support in Gwinnett County.

“As with all changes in both instruction and assessment, we anticipate it will take some time to fill any gaps there may be in students’ learning,” Patterson said. “This does not represent a concern about the assessment, just a realization that we will likely see improvements over time.”

Georgia is lowering the stakes on Georgia Milestones this year so state officials can establish what are referred to as ‘cut scores’ — thresholds students must meet to be considered on grade level.

On the CRCT, those thresholds were among the lowest in the country, and large percentages of students were deemed to have fared well on the tests. But on such national tests as the SAT and ACT, Georgia students failed to match national averages.

The federal government has required states to raise the thresholds for success on new assessments, and Georgia is moving in that direction.

For their part, some parents are still getting adjusted to the idea of a new, more rigorous test.

“The rumor out there is that the Georgia Milestones is more rigorous than the CRCT, and, in the first couple years, you’re going to see test scores going down,” said Jen Ranero, co-president of the PTA at Sagamore Hills Elementary School in DeKalb County. “For me, as a special-needs parent, it’s nice because I know he’ll progress. Overall, they made the Georgia Milestones more rigorous, but they’re relaxing the requirements, so it’s a mixed bag.”

By Wayne Washington – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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