by Michael Moore | In a few weeks, much of the nation and Georgia will commence student testing. Where exactly are we nationally and where are we particularly in Georgia with its new testing program the Georgia Milestones Assessments? Are we ready?
Here’s what we know so far.
Georgia’s Milestones exam is provided by McGraw Hill, the company that also published the CRCT and our high school graduation tests, and has provided Georgia’s tests for the last nine years (since 2006). Georgia entered into a contract with McGraw Hill after dropping out of the PARCC Consortium. We dropped out of the PARCC Consortium because we thought the price per student was too high.
"strongly urge departing from test-focused reforms that not only have been discredited for high-stakes decisions, but also have shown to widen, not close, gaps and inequities."
-- Open Letter to Congress by 500 education researchers around the country
In late May, the DOE awarded a five-year, $107.58 million contract to CTB/McGraw-Hill to develop the new system. The electronic delivery will be phased in over a five-year period.
Federal law mandates 17 annual tests: seven in math and seven in reading for grades 3-9, and one reading and one math test for high school students and a writing test. These tests are in addition to the NAEP tests in reading and math.
If your district has bought into the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) program, add at least three more tests to the yearly total.
How effective are all these new tests? According to U.S. Education Secretary Arnie Duncan, these will be a leap forward in terms of testing ... the next generation he says is Smarter Balanced and PARCC. However, according to testing experts, that’s not what has happened. Design constraints as well as money problems have contributed to a result that is far less than being a game-changer in public education.
According to Linda Darling Hammond, the new exams are less sophisticated in assessing deeper learning as compared to some exams already in use. In a report issued in 2013 by the Gordon Commission on the Future of Assessment in Education, one of the original ideas behind the exams was that most students in the United States would be taking them, allowing for legitimate comparisons of student achievement from state to state.
That notion has collapsed. A number of states have pulled out of the testing regimes, especially from the PARCC consortium, which had 26 member states in 2010 but now has fewer than a dozen. Fifty-three percent of all U.S. students will be taking some test other than PARCC or Smarter Balanced. Common isn’t so common any more.
We may not know what the Milestones test will be like but we do know it will be harder. According to Melissa Fincher, deputy superintendent of testing and accountability for the Georgia Department of Education (GDOE), when compared to the CRCT and the End of Course Tests in high school, scores will likely plunge initially as students become accustomed to the higher bar and rigor. Gone are the tests composed completely of multiple-choice answers; they will be replaced by a combination of multiple choice, short answers and essays.
Graduating seniors may have cause for concern since a waiver is in place this year, districts must still determine what will replace the Milestones scores. State law requires an annual assessment to count for 20 percent of final grades in tested subjects in high school, and many courses had factored that in prior to the waiver.
Scott Muri, deputy superintendent of academics for the Fulton County school system, said this year poses a challenge. “The state requires 20 percent and we’re not going to have that number from Milestones this year.” Tested subjects will be using alternative assessments this year in lieu of the Milestones score. Add in McGraw Hill’s acuity tests, which are versions of its Milestones tests given at intervals, usually nine weeks, and there’s a whole lot of testing going on.
Recently, more than 500 education researchers around the country signed an open letter to Congress and the Obama administration about how the No Child Left Behind law should be rewritten, saying that they “strongly urge departing from test-focused reforms that not only have been discredited for high-stakes decisions, but also have shown to widen, not close, gaps and inequities.”
The testing juggernaut is far more imposing than we ever thought it was under No Child Left Behind. Pearson and McGraw Hill wield enormous influence over American education. They write the textbooks and tests that drive instruction in public schools across the nation.
Their software grades student essays, tracks student behavior and creates inordinate amounts of student data. Their companies dominate the teacher education textbook field, administer teacher licensing exams and coach teachers once they’re in the classroom. They operate networks of online public schools.
There is, though, a mounting anti-testing backlash that may influence the attempt by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Testing will be at the forefront of the reauthorization. This may be one of the last chances to curb the testing frenzy.