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Georgia Advances Bill to Revise Testing Requirements

By guest blogger Catherine Gewertz

The Georgia legislature has given near-final approval to measure that would revamp testing requirements in the state.

The measure, Senate Bill 364, has won approval from both houses of the state legislature, but must still go back to the Senate for another vote, since the House version altered the original bill voted on by the Senate, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The teacher-evaluation parts of the bill are what's getting the most attention, since it substantially reduces—from 50 percent to 30 percent—the portion of a teacher's evaluation that must be based on student test scores. The first section of the bill is devoted to evaluation provisions. My colleague Stephen Sawchuk has all the details on that for you at Teacher Beat.

But the second part contains significant changes for Georgia's assessment program, including introducing new requirements that students demonstrate reading mastery by the end of 3rd grade, and mastery of "basic math skills" by the end of 5th grade. It would also cut science and social studies testing, requiring them only in grades 5 and 8, instead of 3-8.

Reflecting new opportunities in the Every Student Succeeds Act, the bill allows the state to create a pilot program that would let districts use a series of interim tests, instead of one summative test, to produce overall annual achievement scores. (The Georgia bill refers to these tests as "formative" tests, even though ESSA describes that option as using a series of interim tests. As we've reported, the interim-testing provision in ESSA has made assessment wonks kind of nervous.)

Senate Bill 364 says that districts should give formative assessments in grades 1 and 2 that have "a summative component," even though its comprehensive assessment system covers only grade 3 and higher. It requires the state board to adopt a readiness test for entering 1st grade students, and urges districts to develop system of formative assessments for grades K-5 to track students' readiness for 6th grade.

At the high school level, the bill would allow students to use scores on the college-placement test, Accuplacer, or on technical licensing or industry exams, to substitute for end-of-course tests.

If the bill is signed, the state will have to take steps to move testing windows closer to the end of the year in 2017-18. "To maximize classroom instruction time," it wants districts to give tests in the last week of first semester, and in the last two weeks of second semester.

After dropping out of the PARCC consortium, Georgia decided to create its own common-core test for 2014-15. That assessment program, Georgia Milestones, requires students in grades 3-8 to take end-of-grade tests in math, English/language arts, science, and social studies, and high school students to take tests at the end of 10 specified courses. Tests are typically given in April or early May.

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