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School system expects big changes in standardized testing

CONYERS — Rockdale Public Schools Superintendent Rich Autry said he expects good news when district level results for the Criterion Referenced Competency Tests are released later this month.

Autry said at the Board of Education work session Thursday night that preliminary indications are that Rockdale County teachers and students in grades three through eight “overachieved” in preparing for and taking the standardized tests this year.

However, even as the school system makes advances on the CRCT, Autry noted that the rules for standardized testing are changing in a big way.

The state Department of Education announced earlier this month that beginning next year, students will no longer take the CRCT. Instead, students will take the Georgia Milestones assessment, described by the DOE as “a consistent program across grades three through 12” that is aligned with Common Core Georgia Performance Standards and Georgia Performance Standards.

Georgia Milestones, which will consist of End of Grade tests for students in grades three through eight and End of Course tests in high school, is designed to be more rigorous than the assessments students now take. Students in the lower grades will no longer take a writing test; instead, their writing will be assessed based on their answers to open-ended questions in English language arts and math. High school students will continue to take the Georgia High School Writing Test, and it will continue to be a diploma requirement.

At the same time it announced statewide CRCT scores this week, the DOE cautioned in a press release that Georgia Milestones “will require more from students than the CRCT and EOCT it replaces.” According to state School Superintendent John Barge, the increased expectations for learning may mean initially lower scores than previous years’ CRCT or EOCT scores.

“We need to know that students are being prepared, not at a minimum-competency level but with rigorous, relevant education, to enter college, the workforce or the military at a level that makes them competitive with students from other states,” Barge said.

Newton County School System Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey outlined the coming assessment changes in her May newsletter to teachers and administrators, including documents showing that the bar set for performance on the CRCT in reading and math did not necessarily translate to high performance when measured by national norm-references.

“We will have drastic adjustments to testing expectations… ,” Fuhrey wrote. “It will be imperative that we teach students how to think … and put their thoughts in writing.”

“Our students will need continuous feedback about their progress and common assessments will never have been more important — especially in the design phase — we must ratchet up our expectations,” Fuhrey added.

Rockdale Superintendent Autry called the new assessments “a game changer” that will have a broad impact all across the school system.

“It has an impact on all of our academic offices, it has an impact on all of our classrooms, all of our school buildings in pre-K through 12 … this is a massive, massive initiative that will take some time for us to adjust to, and it will take some time for our teachers to adjust to it and our students to adjust to it,” he said.

At the same time, Autry said he supports a consistent assessment across grade levels. In the past, he said, there has been a “disconnect” between assessments at the eighth-grade level and the high school level as the testing tools changed. He noted that last year 85 percent of students in the eighth grade met or exceeded expectations on the CRCT, while only 30 percent in ninth grade met the standard on the EOCT.

“I appreciate and I like that fact that we are going to one consistent — in theory, mind you — one consistent evaluation system in which your progress in third grade can be compared to how you do in fourth grade, and there’s not a disconnect necessarily between eighth grade and ninth grade,” Autry said. “I’ve shared with this board, and you saw it last year and you are going to see it again this year, there is a tremendous disconnect in what is asked of students on the CRCT versus what is asked of them on the EOCT.”

Autry said the new assessment will also demand changes in the way teachers are prepared and the resources that they require.

“I appreciate the fact that we are going to have a longitudinal approach, but I am concerned about the level of rigor and making sure that our teachers have been trained adequately, that they have the adequate resources so they can also change what they do in their classrooms,” he said.

The new Georgia Milestones assessment will be administered completely online by the fifth year of implementation. Autry said that will also mean changes for the local school system in terms of how its benchmark tests are administered.

“If we are going to ask students to take online assessments, we don’t need to be giving paper and pencil benchmarks,” he said. “Part of what benchmarks do is make sure they are prepared for this type of assessment.”

Under the Georgia Milestones program, students in grades three through eight will be tested in language arts, math, science and social studies. High school students will take End of Course Tests in ninth grade literature and composition, American literature and composition, coordinate algebra, analytic geometry, physical science, biology, U.S. history and economics. The End of Course Tests will serve as the final exam for high school students and will account for 20 percent of their final grade.

Final CRCT scores by district are expected to be released no later than June 26.