The State Board of Education got it right this time, according to local school superintendents.
During a called teleconference meeting on Dec. 21, the board unanimously approved State School Superintendent Richard Woods’ recommendation to lower the course grade weight for Georgia Milestones end-of-course exams for high school students from 20% to 0.01% — the weight cannot be zero due to state law — for the 2020-21 school year.
The approval reversed a decision the board made in a split vote in October to reject Woods' recommendation and to instead propose reducing the weight to 10%.
But after a statewide public survey showed 86.3% of the 93,079 respondents supported the 0.01% weight — and only 11.4% said it should be 10%, with the remaining 2.3% choosing 20% — the board changed its course and bowed to the will of the people.
"I wish to thank the State Board of Education for their unanimous support of this proposal," Woods said in a news release. "I firmly believe this is the right thing for kids – we must ensure students and teachers are not penalized for circumstances beyond their control."
The superintendents of both school districts in Bartow County agreed with the board's decision.
Bartow Superintendent Dr. Phillip Page said he's "glad the State Board of Education listened to Georgians during the public-comment period and reversed its original decision."
"This was the right decision for our school community," he said. "The majority of our teachers, students and families supported the 0.01% course grade weight for American literature, biology, Algebra I and U.S. history because it allows for flexibility and a sharp focus on learning and targeted interventions on essential standards during an arduous, unprecedented time."
The decision also will allow the school system to "take advantage of the state-extended testing window and increase test participation," he added.
Cartersville Superintendent Dr. Marc Feuerbach said he appreciated the "Georgia Department of Education's resolve in providing educators with the flexibility to address the current needs of students rather than maintaining a strong focus on high-stakes testing."
"Our administrators, faculty and staff have gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that students have experienced as little disruption to their learning as possible; however, the reality is that our school year has been impacted," he said. "I appreciate the pragmatic approach of State School Superintendent Richard Woods and the state school board to support students and teachers in keeping a priority on the success and progress of students.
“As a district, we are continuing to build a more effective, forward-facing accountability system that is not solely based on high-stakes testing but is guided by the passion and interest of our students, our educators and our community."
Feuerbach also added that although the specific details are unknown, "it appears a great deal of sharing and listening has taken place on behalf of the GaDOE, and we are pleased to see the department’s persistence in supporting students."
The board's decision means students’ course grades will not be negatively impacted by their scores on the EOCs. Even for the exams already administered in the fall, school districts can recalculate course grades using the 0.01% weight.
"This decision alleviates stress and takes into consideration a large number of students statewide who have had or will have their instructional time disrupted due to COVID-19 transmission or quarantine protocols this academic year," Page said.
"It would not be reasonable to measure student success using assessments that were created for a conventional school year so I am pleased to see this new calculation," Feuerbach said. "However, as a district, we rely on gathering actionable and timely data throughout the school year by administering a variety of assessments during the school year, which gives us the opportunity to immediately address areas of student growth."
Other states – including South Carolina, where a similar 20% requirement has been waived – have followed Georgia’s lead in taking steps to reduce the high-stakes consequences of tests for students, according to the release.
The National Center for Education Statistics also decided to suspend National Assessment of Educational Progress testing – known as the Nation’s Report Card – for the 2020-21 school year.
The state’s journey to lessen the impact of high-stakes exams on students’ grades and to give teachers and students more flexibility to focus on learning and remediation rather testing during the pandemic began with GaDOE applying for a waiver of federal standardized testing requirements for the current school year, making Georgia the first state to announce its intentions.
But U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos denied the waiver in September, much to Woods’ displeasure.
“I remain disappointed and disheartened by the federal directive to administer high-stakes tests in a pandemic,” he said in a news release following the denial. “Georgia will abide by federal law, but we are not going to layer additional stress and burden onto our students and teachers during this time. In this environment, these tests are not valid or reliable measures of academic progress or achievement, and we are taking all possible steps at the state level to reduce their high-stakes impact.”
Woods made several recommendations to lessen the pressure and impact of the testing, including the 0.01% weight for high school EOCs (which required board approval), waiving the summative Teacher Keys Effectiveness System evaluation for teachers and removing Georgia Milestones end-of-grade assessments from consideration in promotion/retention decisions (both of which did not need approval from the board), the release said.
“I continue to believe, and we continue to see indicators, that Georgia’s commitment to compassion over compliance from the onset of this pandemic has been the right path to take,” Woods said in a release last month. “As I’ve said since the beginning, who we are will be measured not by a test score but by how we meet this moment, which is why we plan to resubmit our request for federal testing and accountability waivers to the U.S. Department of Education.”
The superintendent was disappointed again when the SBOE voted against his 0.01% weight recommendation and suggested a 10% weight instead.
“While I respect each member of the State Board of Education, I strongly disagree with the majority's decision in this matter,” he said in a news release. “Similar to the federal directive to administer standardized tests in the middle of a pandemic, insisting on high-stakes consequences for those tests is unreasonable and insensitive to the realities of the classroom. I am confident our high school students whose GPAs and scholarships are riding on this decision would agree that a 10% weight is still high-stakes.”
Woods also encouraged all Georgians, regardless of their position on the issue, to “let their voice be heard” through the public survey the board posted online.
Board members apparently listened to the community and reversed their decision to reject the superintendent’s recommendation.