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Milestones testing to begin this week, with few opt-outs
Certain scores in math, reading required for student grade promotion
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Almost 4,700 Bulloch County students in the third through eighth grades are slated to take Georgia Milestones tests at various times over the next two weeks. A letter home warned parents that, this year, opting out will have consequences.

Last year, seven Bulloch County families withdrew their children from taking the state-mandated Milestones end-of-grade tests in the public school system. But 2015, the first year the new tests were used, was a hold-harmless year in which the tests did not count for promotion.
"Last year the state of Georgia allowed us a one-time waiver because the assessments were new," said Hayley Greene, public relations specialist for the Bulloch County Schools. "Usually, neither we nor the state can grant a waiver, because we are required by federal law, as well, to assess students once a year."

For one year only, state officials told the local schools that if parents wanted to opt out of the test, they could do so, Greene said. But this year, certain scores on the math test and the reading portion of the English-language arts test are required for promotion to the next grade under state and local policies.

In his April 1 letter, Bulloch County Schools Superintendent Charles Wilson also told parents that current federal and state laws require public schools to test all students annually.

"Laws do not include provisions that allow children to be opted out of state assessments," Wilson wrote.

'Retained in grade'

The state requires that math and reading scores from the Georgia Milestones tests be used as a determining factor in promoting students from the third, fifth and eighth grades.

"Failure to take the state mandated tests in grades 3, 5, and 8 in reading and-or mathematics on any of the designated testing date(s) will result in the student being retained in that grade," Wilson's letter informed parents.

A Bulloch County Board of Education policy requires that the test results in reading and math also be considered for promotion from the fourth, sixth and seventh grades, the letter noted.

Milestones end-of-grade testing is scheduled to begin Wednesday and to last until
April 28, including make-up days for missed tests. Students in different grades take the tests on different days during the April 13-28 testing window. Georgia Milestones end-of-grade tests are given in four subjects: English-language arts, math, science and social studies.

As of Monday, the school system had received requests from two families for students to opt out of this year's tests, Greene reported after the newspaper asked. She also provided the count that seven parents or families opted out last year.

Wilson's letter defended the Georgia Milestones Assessment System, stating: "The GMAS is a way to help teachers and principals conduct an academic checkup. We have dedicated teachers who want to know how your child is learning and growing. The state assessments are an opportunity for children to show what they know."

National backlash

Nationwide, as part of a recent backlash against standardized testing, some parents have chosen to withdraw their students from tests of this type. Various organizations promote opting out of tests for reasons ranging from concerns about over-testing and the pressure put on children to opposition to state or multi-state standards for what should be taught.

One national organization, United Opt Out, bills itself on its website as "the movement to end corporate education reform." PACT with TACT, a parents and teachers group active in the Atlanta area, advocates test-refusal rights, and its blog and Facebook page contain specific references to Georgia Milestones.

In Wilson's letter, he encouraged parents who want to see changes in federal and state testing requirements "to work properly within the legislative process."

Wilson wrote that he respects parents' right to make educational decisions for their children. But parents who choose to have their children not take a state-mandated test "assume responsibility for the absence of data" and should "understand that it may affect future educational decisions now known and unknown such as course placement," he added.

The schools do not offer alternative assessments or assignments in place of the tests, and absences to avoid the tests are considered unexcused absences, Wilson wrote.

However, the letter also states, "You have the option to appeal the decision to retain your child."

As stated on pages 40 and 46 of the Bulloch County Schools student handbook, when parents of a child retained in the previous grade appeal, the school principal or principal's designee convenes a placement committee, also including teachers and the parents. Only by a unanimous decision can the committee promote the student to the next grade. Definitions in the handbook also distinguish "promotion" based on meeting established criteria and "placement" based on a student's needs.

Principals sent a different letter home explaining the testing schedule, and a state brochure with facts about the Milestones test was included. This year, third-, fifth-, seventh- and eighth-graders will be taking the end-of-grade tests online, along with selected students in the fourth and sixth grades, the principals' letter noted. The state is phasing in online testing for all students.

The Georgia Milestones program also includes end-of-course tests in the high school grades, but these are given at different times of year.

'Curb anxiety'

In addition to the letters, the school system issued a news release, available at www.bulloch.k12.ga.us, encouraging good attendance during the testing days and asking parents to be supportive but to try to alleviate children's stress about the tests.

"Curb anxiety by sharing that tests of all kinds are a part of life," the school system's statement suggests. "Tests are an opportunity to show what you know and give teachers information about how to help you."

Parents were also advised to make sure children get plenty of rest, eat healthy meals and arrive on time each day during testing.

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.

 

 

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