Parents Opt Out of Georgia Milestones

standardized testing
Georgia Legislation

The Georgia Legislature passed SB 355 this year allowing parents to opt out of the Georgia Milestones for medical reasons.  Georgia statute says 3rd, 5th and 8th graders must pass a portion of the state standardized tests to be promoted to the next grade.

However, the promotion requirements have always been routinely ignored says state education department spokesman Matt Cardoza saying, “Students who failed those tests in the past could appeal to local panels, which often approved the students’ promotion”.

If you withdraw your child or homeschool them, they don’t have to pass any tests for promotion.

Kay Draper Hutchinson, a former school counselor, has co-founded a group called “PACT with Tact,” laying out what she believes are misconceptions about the exams and the concerns that she and other parents have about them.  She recently published these thoughts and instructions on how to opt out of the Georgia Milestones.

By: Kay Draper Hutchinson

SPRING BREAK has come to an end, and TESTING SEASON in public schools now begins in earnest. You may not realize how much the testing culture has taken over, but it has. If for any reason you do not want your child to participate in the Milestones testing that stretches over several days, you can refuse the tests on your child’s behalf without consequence (not true for high schoolers because the state legislature ties the mandated tests to each course grade to the tune of 20%).

In Georgia, state-administered tests begin this week for children in grades 3-8 who attend public schools. Thanks to mandates from the state legislature and enticements from USDOE (all in cooperation with profiteers with their eyes on the money to be made in the public ed sector), the focus of early childhood and middle years education is now on these and other tests. The children are increasingly seen as data and the teachers, principals and other employees struggle to maintain conditions that are good for kids when the high stakes attached to all this data affect their very livelihoods. Some parents across the country, all in similar circumstances, have decided to opt out or refuse this testing in order to decrease undue stress, protest the overzealous and punitive system, and lobby for a return to common sense, low stakes assessment as a minor piece of a child’s school experience (see NY for massive opt out movement).

If you don’t want your child to participate, here is what you do-

1) Write the principal and copy your child’s teachers (if you prefer, write them separately to explain that you support them but cannot continue to support high stakes testing). Say the following:

“While I understand that the district must offer the Georgia Milestones to all students, I hereby acknowledge that offer and refuse testing on behalf of my minor child________. Please provide a supervised, alternate location for my child to wait each day while testing is underway. We will provide our child with reading materials and other quiet, self-directed activities. Please forward this email to the appropriate leaders at the district level (In Fulton County Schools, Connie Maggert is the director of assessment). In addition, please acknowledge receipt of this email and provide information I can share with my child about where the students who are not participating in testing will wait.”

2) Prepare your child with a backpack of materials each day of testing: high interest reading material, crossword puzzles/mazes/sudoko, crayons/colored pencils/paper, snacks, cards, etc.

3) Understand that if your child is in grades 4,6, or 7, that is the end of the process. If anyone at the school says not testing could affect placement for next year, let them know that you expect them to use all the other data they have (believe me there is plenty), and that you are aware that parents can waive their children into a different placement if you think it is best.

4) Understand that if your child is in grades 3,5, or 8, you will receive a letter indicating there is a state mandate that students in grades 3,5, and 8 must pass portions of the Milestones in order to be automatically promoted. Therefore, your child’s other performance data will be considered in order to determine promotion. The VITAL INFO in this regard is as follows: IF YOUR CHILD WAS NOT OTHERWISE IN DANGER OF BEING RETAINED, THEY WILL NOT BE RETAINED DUE TO NONPARTICIPATION IN THE MILESTONES.

5) Other thoughts: Some schools are permitting the older children to spend time in a classroom of children who are not taking the Milestones. For example, one child I know will be helping in her former Kindergarten classroom.

6) If you want to know more, like the Facebook page called PACTWITHTACT, search for and join the group Opt Out Fulton/PWT Test Refusal, and search for and join the group Opt Out Georgia. You will see a flyer on PACTWITHTACT page for an Opt Out Georgia meeting tomorrow night in North Fulton area.

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Drastic Changes For Georgia Schools

I would ask the Georgia Department of Education, “Somewhere in Georgia is the worst school district in the state.  What is the Georgia Department of Education going to do about it?”  More money is not the answer.  Spending on education in Georgia has almost doubled per student over the last 20 years.

Georgia’s School Superintendent Richard Woods might very well be as much a knob as Barge.  Woods has become more vocal about coming out against the Governor and the majority Republican legislature.  The Associated Press writes about the direction the Governor and state legislature are taking Georgia.

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia’s education system could see some dramatic changes in the next two years, as Gov. Nathan Deal shifts his first-term focus on prisons and courts to education.

Voters will decide in November whether to approve Deal’s proposed constitutional amendment to allow the state to take over chronically failing schools. The state’s education and teacher organizations oppose the amendment and are gearing up for a fight.

Meanwhile, Deal has until May 3 to sign or veto a measure passed by the Georgia Legislature that would reduce the number of standardized tests that students must take and change the way teachers are evaluated.

Other measures may also gain traction in the next legislative session, including a new funding formula for state schools.

SCHOOL TAKEOVER

Perhaps the most contested portion of Deal’s education agenda is a constitutional amendment that would give a state-run district control over schools deemed “chronically failing.”

If passed by voters in the general election this November, the amendment would create an Opportunity School District (OSD) that would manage 20 failing schools per year, controlling no more than 100 at a time.

Deal spokeswoman Jen Talaber said in a statement that the potential creation of an OSD has spurred a new sense of urgency in communities and school districts, where many are focusing additional resources on improving failing schools.

The Teachers Rally Against Georgia Insurance Chances (TRAGIC) opposes the amendment.

“This model simply gives up on communities and locally organized schools and its students and hands them over to someone else to manage,” spokesman John Palmer said.

Georgia’s School Superintendent Richard Woods said he agrees that some schools may need some “intensive care,” but his chief concern remains “that we are doing our part to support them and not being an obstacle to their improvement.”

NEW FUNDING FORMULA

An issue that is sure to be on the calendar for the 2017 legislative session is an overhaul of the state school funding formula.

Lawmakers are expected to consider changes to the Quality Based Education (QBE) funding formula, which is viewed by many as outdated. Funding has been central to the education debate in Georgia, and Deal’s office asserts that changing the funding mechanism will benefit students.

Deal was expected to propose changes this year, but teacher organizations’ outcry prompted legislative leaders to question his strategy. Deal held off but told lawmakers he wants them to consider the issue in 2017.

Sid Chapman, president of the Georgia Association of Educators, said his organization supports a new funding formula, but will be closely examining the details.

A commission Deal appointed recommends that each district shift K-8 teachers to a pay scale based on student performance. The group also recommended that the state determine funding for schools based on individual students’ needs, factoring in poverty, grade level and enrollment in gifted or special education classes.

The group also advocated for more flexibility on testing, more support to charter schools and letting students advance grade levels when ready.

TEACHER EVALUATIONS

Sweeping reforms were approved to reduce the number of standardized tests taken by students, along with adjusting teacher and principal evaluations.

Education associations from across the state have supported the bill, calling for less stringent teacher evaluations that would allow them to dedicate more time to test preparation. Additionally, the bill would ease evaluations on high quality teachers, who would be rated as such by the state.

Deal has until May 3 to sign or veto the bill. If he takes no action by that date, the measure automatically becomes law.

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Schools as Polling Precincts

Schools are convenient one stop shops for a lot of public services outside of education.  Atlanta Public Schools (APS) is putting health clinics in some of their schools.  Just recently, many schools were used as voting precincts.

Safety is a valid concern, however schools aren’t on lock down 24/7 and frequently unlock their doors to the public for various school events.  Nevertheless, Jon Gargis with the MDJ Online is reporting that some Cobb parents aren’t happy with the additional risks of having polling precincts at schools.

Cobb parents express concern over schools’ use as polling places
by Jon Gargis

As tens of thousands of Cobb County residents weighed in on the presidential race Tuesday, parents went online to express concerns that their children’s schools remained in session as voters were heading there to cast their ballots.

Of the 144 precincts in Cobb County, 57 are at schools in the Cobb School District, five are at schools in the Marietta School District and one is at Dominion Christian High.

It’s the use of the county schools as polling places that concerned parents on Facebook. A post on the “Cobb County School District Unofficial Community Page” had drawn nearly 100 comments, as well as spinoff discussions, by late Wednesday afternoon. Many of those who commented expressed concern that opening the school to the public jeopardized student safety. Several members gave the MDJ permission to use their comments for publication.

“Just because something has been done and safe in the past doesn’t mean it is or will continue to be,” said Julie Goldberg, an east Cobb mother of two. “Times are vastly different today. Sad to say, but unfortunately, our new reality.”

The issue of voting occurring at schools was also a safety concern to at least one student.

“My 8-year-old third-grader was nervous upon arrival seeing signs that ‘guns are not permitted.’ I think we all speak to how we feel as parents with the safety of schools being polling sites, but I realized today that my little one was alarmed by it as well,” said Debbie McLaughlin, co-president of Garrison Mill Elementary’s PTA.

Cobb Schools Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said Wednesday he was not aware of any incidents that occurred at schools that served as polling places. He said those locations make every effort to segment off the polling locations to keep students and the voting public separate.

He added that he had received a few emails from parents asking why the district remained in session.

“The way the calendar worked out this year, we were not able to take the voting day as a teacher workday, but what we did do is reallocate our resource officers to make sure the polling locations were covered, and we also worked with local PD, whether that be Cobb or the municipalities, to make sure that we had increased patrols at the schools that were polling locations.”

The school district is not the only entity concerned with safety at their polling places.

“We have sheriff’s office deputies that are assigned to us on election day, and we station them at the schools or even polling places that have daycares, and we’ll put them where they’re requested,” said Janine Eveler, director of the Cobb elections office. “And we have a staff of deputies assigned to just rove around the polling places, and make periodic visits to certain ones in a geographic area they’re deployed to.”

Some parents also questioned why the district did not schedule a day off for students on the election day when others in nearby districts did so.

Tuesday was a professional learning day — a student holiday — for Marietta City Schools. Students were also out of school Tuesday in neighboring Paulding County, which also utilizes several public schools for its polling places.

Other metro Atlanta school districts, such as Cherokee and Gwinnett county schools, remained open Tuesday despite having facilities that hosted voting precincts.

Angela Huff, chief of staff for Cobb County Schools, said the district has not scheduled student holidays to coincide with past primary election days, and only in the last few years has scheduled staff workdays on the general election dates. The calendars for the next two school years will give students the day off on those November election days.

Ragsdale said considerations to close the school for election days can be a “tough call.”

“When you’re looking at the calendar, and you’ve got so many breaks and days off and those kinds of things, you have to make sure the calendar balances,” he said.

Other parents said that traffic flow and parking at their schools were concerns, especially at student drop off and pick up times.

“Our school already lacks adequate parking. This compounded that situation,” said Katrina Bishop, a Pitner Elementary parent.

But not every parent was against the schools being used for polling. Becky Slemons said she was unaware of any incidents occurring at schools that have hosted elections in the past. Her children’s school, Addison Elementary, had voters going to the gym, away from the students, and administrators and extra teachers came out to the car line to ensure smooth operations during student drop off and pick up. Student security and safety, she added, remained intact during the day.

“I think it’s an important civic lesson for students to see their fellow citizens taking part in how government is set up to work,” Slemons said. “It’s one day, and we should be making it easier for people to vote, not harder.”

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Education groups lining up to fight Georgia governor’s plan for failing schools

Both sides of the aisle are clearing the education table for the fight over the Opportunity School District (OSD) constitutional amendment vote in December.

The Governor’s Education Reform Commission released its final report last month. Some parts, like merit pay for teachers, are more controversial for others. In preparation for the battle on OSD, the Deal team has decided to push these initiatives to next year. Furthermore, it would appear the Governor is attempting to cozy up to the educational establishment by increasing state funding and insisting on a 3% raise for teachers across Georgia.

Education SPLOST, a 1% sales tax for capital projects, vote has been moved from Nov to May 2016 for all metro Atlanta school districts (although I’m not sure that announcement has been made yet). School districts want to clear their plate for the fight against OSD. There will also be a number of Transportation SPLOST votes on the ballot in November and school districts want to avoid any confusion between all of these issues.

Lee Shearer with Online Athens reports on the education establishment circling the wagons in preparation for the fight against OSDs.

By LEE SHEARER

Education groups across the state are gearing up to campaign against the proposed Opportunity School District constitutional amendment that Georgia voters vote on in November.

If passed, the legislation allows Gov. Nathan Deal to pick up to 20 schools a year, up to a total of 100, from across the state in a special school district for schools labeled as poor performers that would be run through the governor’s office, under the supervision of a superintendent picked by the governor.

One Clarke County school, Gaines Elementary, is among the 120 named by the governor as possible candidates for the district because of low pass rates on state achievement tests.

Some 20 organizations are meeting to develop a coordinated statewide strategy, according to Karen Solheim of Athens, president of the Georgia Association of Educators’ retired teachers organization.

Solheim met with the Clarke County Board of Education’s legislative committee Tuesday, along with Valarie Wilson, executive director of the Georgia School Boards Association, who attended the meeting via telephone.

The Clarke County school board is already on record as opposing the school district; turning back the so-called OSD is one of the legislative priorities for this year adopted by the full school board at a meeting earlier this month.

But the school board and board members have to limit their roles to education, said the board’s lawyer, Michael Pruitt. State law prohibits the board from advocacy on legislation and from spending tax money for advocacy, he told them.

State legislators last year voted to put the OSD question on ballots in this November’s general election, and also authorized a bill that partly outlined how the OSD would work.

The governor’s Opportunity School District superintendent could choose four options for schools whose low scores landed them in the OSD, including one that would remove them permanently from local control, although local school boards are required to provide school buildings and equipment for the OSD school and to contract with the OSD to provide services such as transportation to any local schools pulled into the OSD.

The options include “shared governance” of the troubled school between the governor’s superintendent and the local school board; a simple takeover of the school by the state; converting the school into a state charter school; and as a last resort closing the school.

If the governor’s superintendent takes the charter school route, the schools would be set up as nonprofit corporations with a board of directors appointed by the governor’s superintendent, with the authority to hire a for-profit private company to operate the school.

Schools converted to charter schools might not ever return to a local school board’s control, even if they began to post passing grades on an A-F grading scale the state is creating. They will be eligible to remain state charter schools, under the supervision of their state-appointed boards, according to legislation the state General Assembly adopted last year.

But except for money details, the governor’s office has not revealed how the overall process will work, Wilson said.

“None of that has been shared at all,” she said.

The Georgia School Boards Association hired a consultant to examine “growth” rates at more than 100 schools Gov. Deal identified last year as candidates for the OSD. That consultant found that the OSD candidate schools showed on average more growth from year to year than top schools, Wilson said.

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Texas School Triples Recess Time And Sees Immediate Positive Results In Kids

A Texas school started giving children four recess breaks a day, and teachers and parents say the results have been wonderful.

Recess is a lot more than just a free break for kids to play after lunch period. That free, unstructured play time allows kids to exercise and helps them focus better when they are in class. Now a school in Texas says it took a risk by giving students four recess periods a day, but the risk has paid off beautifully.

According to Today, the Eagle Mountain Elementary in Fort Worth, Texas, has been giving kindergarten and first-grade students two 15-minute recess breaks every morning and two 15-minute breaks every afternoon to go play outside. At first teachers were worried about losing the classroom time and being able to cover all the material they needed with what was left, but now that the experiment has been going on for about five months, teachers say the kids are actually learning more because they’re better able to focus in class and pay attention without fidgeting.

“There was a part of me that was very nervous about it,” said first-grade teacher Donna McBride. “I was trying to wrap my head around my class going outside four times a day and still being able to teach those children all the things they needed to learn.”

But now she says that not only are the students paying better attention in class, they’re following directions better, attempting to learn more independently and solve problems on their own, and there have been fewer disciplinary issues.

“We’re seeing really good results,” she said, and those results make sense. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that recess is “a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development.” Even adults have a hard time concentrating and working their best when confined to a chair all day, so it’s amazing that we expect kids to be able to focus and learn without any way to exercise and blow off steam. When kindergarten students or first-graders are forced to sit still all day and allowed only one 15-minute break to play, as the Eagle Mountain students were before this experiment began, it’s only natural that they’d start to fidget and act up in class. Giving them regular breaks to play outside is good for their minds as well as their bodies.

“You start putting 15 minutes of what I call ‘reboot’ into these kids every so often and… it gives the platform for them to be able to function at their best level,” said professor Debbie Rhea, who is working with Eagle Mountain Elementary and other schools to increase the amount of physical activity and play time children get at school.

Rhea’s program calls for schools to add the four 15-minute recesses a day for kindergarten and first-grade students, and then adding another grade every year as it goes on. And teachers aren’t the only ones seeing good results from this program, either. Some parents say they’ve noticed their children being more independent and creative at home, and they also say the extra recess time has helped their kids socially. It’s a lot easier to make friends on the swing-set than when you’re all silently watching an adult explain math problems, after all.

Giving up class time for regular, short recess breaks seems like an exchange that pays off well, because after recess kids learn more efficiently and enthusiastically when they are in class than they would if they were just strapped to their desks all day. Kids today have a lot of things to learn in a short amount of time, but it looks like the best way to help them learn is to give them time to play and be kids.

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Atlanta looks to charter schools to manage its worst schools

If Gov. Deal’s Opportunity School District (OSD) passes this year, almost half the schools in Atlanta Public Schools (APS) could be taken over. The school district would in turn lose almost half its state and local funding.

Superintendent Meria Carstarphen is circling the wagons and last year hired Deal education adviser Erin Hames, an architect of the Opportunity District. The district’s plan to keep the money is to beat the OSD to the punch and turn the failing schools into charters under the governance of APS.

Molly Bloom with the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:

Atlanta school district leaders could put some of the city’s worst schools under the management of charter school groups before the state does it for them.

Just before the December vacation, Atlanta Public Schools formally announced it was seeking organizations like charter school operators, local nonprofits and companies that run charter schools to improve the performance of the schools that could fall under Gov. Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District, if voters approve the plan this fall.

If the plan is approved, the state would be able take over a limited number of Georgia’s lowest performing schools and close them, run them or convert them to charter schools.

Atlanta’s proposal comes even though some members of a parent advisory committee on how to turn around Atlanta schools said they didn’t support bringing in charter school operators.

Atlanta schools need to improve quickly, Deputy Superintendent David Jernigan said. “If that means doing some controversial things, then that means we have to do it.”

State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) said he was “deeply skeptical” of the Atlanta’s proposal to bring in charter groups.

“One would hope that the superintendent would have a clear view and vision of how to solve the problem instead of farming it out to an outside company or entity,” he said.

The school board is scheduled to consider hiring groups in March. Anyone hired could begin work as early as this fall.

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Georgia’s A-F Grading of Schools

In April this year, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed into law a bill to create an A-F school grading system for Georgia schools (SB 133). A, B, C, D, or F will be assigned to each public elementary and secondary school based on student achievement, achievement gap closure, and student growth. Schools earning an F for at least three consecutive years will qualify for the new Opportunity School District. The OSD will take in a maximum of 20 schools per year, with no more than 100 at any given time, and will have jurisdiction over these schools for a minimum of 5 years and a maximum of 10 years.

Kelly Cadman is a parent and teacher at Brighten Academy Charter School. In this essay, she explains why she supports Georgia’s new A-F school grading system.

By: Kelly Cadman

Politicians may talk a big game about education, but at the end of the day, no one has the same stake in my children’s future that I do. As a parent, I’m ultimately responsible for ensuring my two boys, aged 11 and 16, are prepared for all the opportunities and challenges that life brings. I am also a teacher, and I believe that responsibility extends to my students.

But how are we parents supposed to know what happens in our kids’ schools? We can’t do anything to help if we don’t know their schools are struggling. Even the most involved parents can miss major problems in the classroom, because we can’t be there every day. That is why I’m excited about the new A-F school grading system in Georgia.

The new system, which was signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal earlier this year and will be released in 2016, raises the bar in education in three critically important areas. Here is where the teacher in me kicks in.

First and foremost, A-F school grading prioritizes excellence over the complacency in the old system. There should be no greater goal in education than academic success. Through the simplicity of A-F letter grades, parents can quickly identify problematic trends at their children’s school and get engaged to help turn them around.

Secondly, according to other states that have implemented A-F school grading, this urgency prompts entire communities to come together to tackle the problems of a given school. Across the nation, parents, teachers and community leaders are rejecting mediocrity and the status quo, and dedicating themselves to improving student achievement.

Just like a report card helps me understand how my child is doing academically, A-F grades will give me a better idea of how their schools are performing. And the increase of public attention surrounding the release of the grades will inspire pride in successful schools and unleash a competitive fire in struggling schools committed to doing better.

While the new A-F school grading system provides more accountability and transparency in education, that does not mean it is perfect. And as parents, teachers and community leaders, we must continue to push to refine the system to improve student achievement.

The debate over education reform is never an easy one. Many of us parents sincerely love our children’s teachers and know that our schools are working harder than ever to provide our children with an education that prepares them for success. As a teacher, I am striving each day to set my students up for success. But this is a debate worth having, because how we educate our children today will determine not just their future, but the future of our entire state.

As a mother of two children and teacher to 27 students, I choose reform. And it is my belief that Georgia’s new A-F school grading policy will help create an education system that is second to none.

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