Bulloch County’s school system will soon take advantage of a change in Georgia law that reduces the amount of required testing, Superintendent Charles Wilson has announced. As a result of Senate Bill 364, the schools will also stop doing certain surveys of students and teachers.
Georgia Milestones tests in science and social studies are being eliminated at several grade levels, while Milestones testing requirements for math and English remain unchanged. But “the big piece,” Wilson told the Board of Education on June 9, is what will happen to a less well-known form of test administered in every course and grade for which no Georgia Milestones tests were available.
For kindergarten through second grade, and for subjects such as physical education, music and keyboarding, schools have been required to use Student Learning Objectives tests, or SLOs, to gauge how well teachers are doing their jobs. These tests were given at the beginning and the end of each year or semester to measure student “growth.”
“I don’t know how much you have heard about SLOs in the district and what it has meant,” Wilson said. “For lack of a better term, it’s been a very unwelcome thing that teachers have perceived as just more testing on students. For teachers, it’s more work, and it has just created more – if you want to use the term – bureaucracy in the district.”
Among other changes, Senate Bill 364, passed by overwhelming majorities of both the state Senate and House last session, makes SLO testing optional, allowing schools to measure students’ progress in other ways.
Wilson said he had talked to principals and other staff members and the consensus was, “If we don’t have to do it, why in the world would we want to do it?”
So SLO tests will be dropped as a regular expectation of the schools, he said.
“We have all the pieces in place that will inform us on how our students are doing without having to administer additional required external tests,” Wilson said. “So I don’t think anybody is shedding any tears. It’s good for students in the fact that it reduces anxiety and confusion. It’s more time on instruction. It’s good for the morale of the teachers.”
The Bulloch County Schools could submit a plan to the state for an alternative measure, but could also derive student growth measures for these teachers from the average performance of students at each school.
”We are already assessing students the appropriate way,” Wilson told the board.
The schools, he said, are measuring students’ learning “formatively,” through shared unit tests developed by teachers working in teams. The schools also measure students’ progress “diagnostically” using software called i-Ready, which tracks grades and Lexile scores, gauging reading ability for differing subject matter.
Previously, student growth was expected to count for 50 percent, but Senate Bill 364 reduces it to 30 percent of teachers’ effectiveness scores.
Another 50 percent comes from observations of teachers at work. This isn’t changing. But the remaining 20 percent of teacher effectiveness scores can now come from attaining professional development goals, from added observations, or from other measures identified by the local school district. Teachers’ work and cooperation in their planning teams, called Professional Learning Communities, could be used, Wilson said.
Surveys and Milestones
Additionally, surveys asking students about their teachers have been eliminated as a required part of the teacher ratings, Wilson announced. Similarly, teachers and other school employees will no longer be surveyed about principals. The state’s School Climate Star Rating, based on surveys completed by the public, will be used instead, and will now count for 10 percent of school leaders’ ratings.
The bill, signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal and to take effect July 1, also eliminates the Georgia Milestones tests in science and social studies for third, fourth, sixth and seventh grades. The science and social studies end-of-grade tests will now be required only for fifth and eighth grades. But the tests are still required for math and English language-arts in third through eighth grades.
Milestones end-of-course tests are still mandated for the same high school courses where they were previously required.
Reducing the number of state-mandated tests from 32 to 24, the legislation drew support from a wide variety of educational organizations.
The Georgia Association of Educators, made up mainly of teachers and other school employees, supported Senate Bill 364 so strongly that it saluted the bill’s author, Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, as the group’s Legislator of the Year, noted GAE President Sid Chapman.
“That’s how happy we were that this much was done,” he said.
Tippins’ original bill would have reduced student growth to 20 percent as a component of teacher performance scores. But a compromise with the House version resulted in the 30 percent level.
“We would have preferred the original version of 20 percent on teacher evaluation,” Chapman told the Statesboro Herald. “We believe there is too much standardized testing.”
But the final version also provides that students must be in a teacher’s classroom for at least 90 percent of the year before their scores count in that teacher’s evaluation. Chapman called this a “good move.”
Chapman said SLO tests, created in each district to state specifications, were of questionable validity, but that many districts may still end up using them or something like them.
Georgia’s reduction of testing requirements, he noted, follows a major change in federal education law. Congress adopted the Every Student Succeeds Act last year. It requires less testing than the No Child Left Behind Act, which it replaced.
“With the passage of Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, the amount of standardized testing can be greatly reduced,” Chapman said, but added that this will require further action by the Georgia General Assembly.
Delegates to the Georgia School Boards Association, meeting this week in Savannah, adopted a legislative platform that includes a plank urging the state to review testing requirements and limit the number of tests “to those that are essential to monitor student learning and inform instruction.”
This has been a part of the association’s legislative agenda for several years, said GSBA Director of Policy and Legislative Services Angela Palm. The GSBA, she said, supported Senate Bill 364 as “a good compromise” but still believes a thorough review of testing requirements is needed.
“Without really doing a comprehensive look at what we have and why we have it and what we want in the future, I think this was the best we could do,” Palm said.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.