SB 367

Scaling Back State Assessments

Bill Analysis: SB 367 (LC 49 0123)
February 21, 2020

Georgia lawmakers are considering a proposal to reduce the number of state-required standardized tests. Senate Bill 367 would eliminate one state test for fifth graders as well as four state tests for high school students. If approved, SB 367 would move the testing period closer to the school year’s end for elementary and middle school students. It also calls for eliminating questions intended to measure Georgia students’ academic achievement against their peers in other states.

PAGE members have consistently expressed concern about the time devoted to testing and its impact on teaching and learning. Their concerns are reflected in PAGE’s 2020 legislative priorities, which include reducing the number of state tests. Standardized tests more closely reflect student poverty than student learning. They have led to diminished and disjointed curriculum in many places and do not capture all that educators do to nurture students.[1] PAGE supports SB 367 and encourages lawmakers to approve it.

Proposed Assessment Revisions

Georgia’s public school students take the state’s standardized assessments, the Georgia Milestones, in math and English Language Arts in grades three through eight every year as required by both state and federal law. State law also requires students to take state social studies and science exams in grades five and eight. The tests are given near the end of the school year and are referred to as “End of Grade” or EOG tests. The state also mandates that high school students take eight exams, two in each core subject area. This is above federal requirement of one reading/language arts and one math assessment in high school.[2]These exams are called “End-of-Course” or EOC tests. They are administered at several points during the year depending on when the course is offered, its duration and the pace at which students complete the required work.

If approved, SB 367 will reduce the number of required state assessments for fifth graders and high school students. The bill would:

  • Eliminate the social studies Milestones test for 5th
  • Reduce the number of high school Milestones tests to four from eight.[3]

The bill would shift the existing requirement that writing be assessed in 11th grade to once in grades nine through 12. The writing assessment is currently incorporated into EOC tests and is not a separate exam. This practice is expected to continue.

SB 367 seeks to eliminate the requirement that the Milestones exams include nationally norm-referenced questions that allow for comparisons with students across the nation as well as reporting how Georgia students fare in those comparisons. Georgia will continue to participate in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a test that is administered nationally and allows for such comparisons. The state may also participate in other tests with that use nationally norm-referenced questions.

The bill would require districts to administer Milestones in grades three through eight during the last 25 school days of the regular school year. Under SB 367, the state board would set testing dates for the EOC Milestones given to high school students. It is expected that these would be ranges of dates to accommodate the various course scheduling configurations across high schools.

If approved by lawmakers, the SB 367 gives the state board the option of including the EOC assessments in the final grades high school students earn in the tested courses. Under current law, the board must set regulations that include assessment results in students’ final grades in the tested courses.

The bill also provides the Georgia Department of Education the option of conducting an analysis of how school districts use locally-implemented assessments. While the Milestones tests are given only once annually, districts often administer other assessments multiple times a year to track student learning and gauge their readiness for Milestones. The aim of the analysis is to help districts reduce duplication across tests and use them to more effectively to support student learning. It would follow up on a similar study the department undertook with the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education several years ago.

A Critical Step to Reduce Testing Constraints

The testing reductions outlined in SB 367 are a step forward in reducing the outsized influence standardized tests having on teaching and learning. Well-designed tests can be a valuable tool to help teachers and students gauge the skills and knowledge students are gaining and where they need continued work. However, tests do not capture the totality of what students know and are able to do, nor do they fully reflect the array of strategies and supports educators use to engage and nurture students. Their results are also closely tied to students’ economic circumstances. Yet too often the tests become the sole benchmark by which students and teachers are judged.

Reducing the number of state tests provides an opportunity to broaden the tools and methods used to assess learning so that a more complete picture of educator and school effectiveness is developed. It can also provide educators with greater flexibility to design instructional strategies that more closely align with their students’ needs.

PAGE led the formation of a group of Georgia districts that are developing a more comprehensive approach to accountability: True Accountability for Georgia Schools or TAGS. These districts are creating a broad framework for measuring their effectiveness, which includes: student achievement, student readiness, engagement of the whole child, community partnerships, quality staff and operations, and safety and well-being. Accountability approaches like TAGS can serve as a model for policymakers and spur meaningful change in districts that better supports students and educators alike.

[1] Berliner, D. (2011). Rational responses to high stakes testing: The case of curriculum narrowing and the harm that follows. Cambridge Journal of Education 41(3) 287-302.

[2] Federal law also requires states to administer science assessments once in grades three to five, six to nine, and 10 to 12.

[3] There are 10 Milestones exams for high school students, including four in math. However, students take only two math Milestones exams depending on the course they take: Algebra I or Coordinate Algebra; Geometry or Analytic Geometry. The total number of Milestone exams high school students currently take is eight.