Georgia high school students still have a chance to have the weight of their end-of-course exams lowered.
After the U.S. Department of Education announced in early September that it would not consider standardized testing waivers for the 2020-21 school year, Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods said the state would follow federal law, but he would take action to remove the pressure of high-stakes testing for this academic year to avoid layering more stress and burden onto the students and teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the Oct. 1 State Board of Education meeting, Woods recommended lowering the weight of the Georgia Milestones end-of-course scores from 20% of the student's final grade to 0.01% — the weight can't be zero due to state law — for the current school year, but the board voted 8-4, with some members absent, to reject his recommendation.
Instead, the board proposed a 10% course weight and posted its proposal online for public comment from Oct. 2 to Nov. 17.
"While I respect each member of the State Board of Education, I strongly disagree with the majority's decision in this matter," Woods said in a statement after the vote. "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."
But after 86.3% of the 93,079 Georgians responding to the survey said the weight should be 0.01%, the board voted at its November meeting Thursday to withdraw its 10% recommendation and to post Woods' 0.01% recommendation online for public comment for 30 days as legally required.
Board members will vote on the updated proposal in December.
"I appreciate the State Board of Education hearing and responding to the clear will of the people on this issue and hope that will continue with a vote to approve the 0.01% recommendation in December," Woods said in a statement. "My position on this has not changed; it is logistically, pedagogically and morally unreasonable to administer high-stakes standardized tests in the middle of a pandemic. If the federal government is going to continue insisting on the administration of these exams, it is incumbent on us at the state level to ensure they are not high stakes and do not penalize students and teachers for circumstances beyond their control."
In the first survey, 11.4% of respondents said the weight should be 10%, and 2.3% said it should remain at the original 20%. Another 500 wrote in detailed comments, with many sharing the impact high-stakes testing during a pandemic would have on their students and classrooms.
Bartow County's two superintendents were happy the SBOE changed its mind.
"I was pleased to see the State Board of Education consider the public survey data that was submitted over the past month regarding state testing," Cartersville Superintendent Dr. Marc Feuerbach said. "I don't believe anyone wants to avoid accountability, but at the same time, consideration must be given to the fact that we are living through a pandemic, which has caused various interruptions to the learning of many students due to either being sick and having to isolate due to [Georgia Department of Public Health] guidelines or having to quarantine due to being identified as a close contact."
While Feuerbach said he appreciates Woods' "stance on high-stakes testing during a pandemic," his 0.01% proposal "does not change anything we will do instructionally when compared to the 10% proposal."
"As I have mentioned before, high-stakes state testing only shows a small picture of what we do as a school system on a regular basis," he said. "Regardless of the percentage, we will continue to focus on the academic, social and emotional needs of our students and personalize their education as best as possible. We have always focused on making things personal in our system, and we will continue to do so daily."
Bartow County Superintendent Dr. Phillip Page said his district anticipates that its EOC courses — Algebra I, American literature, biology and U.S. history — "will count for 0.01% this academic year."
"That percentage mirrors the proposed state weight value, which will be voted on by the State Board of Education next month," he said.
The opportunity to comment on the public survey for the 0.01% proposal should be available any day now on the Georgia Department of Education website.
It's important to note that the state board's vote does not need to take place before a student tests for the 0.01% weight to apply, according to the DOE. If that weight is approved next month, districts may recalculate course grades for students who have already tested.