Georgia test results offer too little, too late. What then is their true purpose?

A graduate of Atlanta Public schools, Clara Totenberg Green is now a middle school teacher in the district. Today, she raises compelling questions about the Georgia Milestones and whether the new state exams serve to help teachers improve their instruction. District- and school-level results on the Milestones were released this week.

The Milestones results were delayed this year because of standard setting, according to the state Department of Education, and will be back to schools and teachers in two weeks in 2016.

However, her points on the information provided to teachers from the tests are excellent, and the state Department of Education should take heed.

(And to the question some of you will ask: Green’s own APS students were among the top scorers in the district on the Milestones.)

By Clara Totenberg Green

Imagine you’re a football coach, working the entire season to prepare your team for the championship. You spend countless hours on the field, coaching your players and improving their skills for the final game. But when the time finally comes, you’re not allowed to attend the game. You are only told whether your team won or lost, and if their defense or offensive was weak or strong. You’re not given any information on how your players struggled or where they needed work. All you’re told is to get back to practice and coach better next year.

Illogical, right? And yet, this is exactly what we are asking teachers to do.

Jon Krause NewsArt

Jon Krause NewsArt

On Monday, the Georgia Milestones Assessment System released test scores from last school year. The Milestones exam helps determine how schools are funded and is the most important high-stakes test Georgia students take. The coming cycle of tests will be used to determine students’ advancement to the next grade, as well as 50 percent of each teacher’s evaluation.

The results were released seven months after the students took the test, and more than four months into the current school year. In other words, the state of Georgia took seven months to grade the test that I was given eight months to prepare students for. According to the Department of Education, this year’s results will be distributed two weeks after the test. But while the results may come faster, their limited data provides no insight into my students’ learning. Test results in May give teachers mere weeks to address student needs before summer break.

In my Social Studies class last year, my students and I had wondrous moments when we explored, deliberated, and reflected on dynamic historical topics. But the test always loomed in the background, an eventuality that we had to face. I planned my lessons knowing there was very little time I could spend on each topic, forced to rush on to new material that had to be covered by test time. The pressure of the test invaded almost every moment of my instruction.

But, when the day finally arrived, I wasn’t allowed to see the test. To this day, I don’t know what content they were tested on or how the questions were written. The very person charged with teaching students the content was kept completely in the dark.

I spent the entire year preparing my students for a test I never saw, a test that never helped me advance my teaching or my students’ education. And now the results, which arrive only four months before the next round of testing begins, provide no comprehensive data that can be used to improve instruction. We are testing for the sake of testing, providing no opportunities for constructive intervention or instruction. Now I’m back in the same place I was last year – teaching complex topics on a superficial level, cutting off class debates because of limited time, knowingly not providing my students with all the services they need – all because of a test that awaits.

This week’s data from the Georgia Milestones is vague and inadequate, providing little insight into my students’ strengthens and weakness. The results categorize students into one of four “achievement levels” for each subject. Social Studies is grouped under broad themes – geography, government/civics, economics, and history. The Milestones results list students’ “domain mastery” of these themes. But within history alone, sixth grade teachers teach 20 standardized subject areas. Just one of these standard areas covers the Russian Revolution, the Treaty of Versailles, worldwide depression, and the rise of Nazism. There are 19 other detailed and lengthy subject areas just in the history section. That means that when I’m told how a student fared on history, I’m actually being told very little.

If the Georgia Milestones are actually about improving instruction, I need more information. I need answers to questions such as: Did students do poorly on written geography questions but well on maps? Did students know the history of the Holocaust but miss questions on the Russian Revolution? Did students struggle with questions that asked them to apply their knowledge to hypothetical situations?

In an August op-ed, State School Superintendent Richard Woods said the Georgia Milestones would paint “a clear and accurate picture of where our students are and how to get them where they need to be – an assessment system that provides purpose instead of just percentiles and data points.” But that didn’t happen. By refusing to let me see the test, and then belatedly giving me scant data in late November on how my students performed, I have no means of using the information to guide my instruction. The Georgia Milestones results are grades, not tools for instruction and educational transformation.

The state of Georgia considers this test our championship game, and I want to be the best coach I can. But even if I accept the premise that testing is a key to educational success, I’m not given the tools to prepare students as best as possible. If this test is actually about improving education, why does it feel like every child ends up losing?

 

 

Reader Comments 0

61 comments
Carlos_Castillo
Carlos_Castillo

If this scheme is implemented badly, then the state will get what it deserves:  Those teachers who are able will leave the system.  The best ones will be the most able to go.


The big winners will be private schools and surrounding states.

jerryeads
jerryeads

Clara, NEVER have state end of year "competency" tests anywhere EVER been of ANY use to ANY teacher for his or her kids - or at least from when I walked into this business thirty-five years ago. You'd think if we were going to spend that kind of money (I'm guessing now, but the Milestones budget ought be up around $40 million a year) we'd spend a lot of it figuring out how it might help teachers help kids, but that's not their purpose, and never will be. The idea is to publicly keep berating you and your kids so that you'll "try harder" next year. It's a punishment model. Remember the old saw "The beatings will continue until morale improves."  You'd think we'd have noticed in those past 35 years that end of year minimum competency testing hasn't helped kids much. (It's likely done great harm).

YES, I think Common Core, and tests like Milestones may be an improvement (as a reflection of what and how we should be teaching) over the "old" CRCT factoid recall tests, but they're not instructionally any more usable. If we were going to USE the results, we'd give the tests at the very beginning of the year and have the data in your hands NLT end of September. MAYBE we could reconfigure last year's data into new rosters for YOUR kids this year, but last spring is a distant past for this year's kids and those data are much less usable even IF we did that.

CUMomof2
CUMomof2

I feel sorry for the teachers.  Last year they got little to zero information about these tests in advance.  My son was having panic attacks before the testing started because he picked up on the nerves of his teachers.  He is a smart kid and I have no doubt he will be successful in life.  


They are asking way too much of CHILDREN to sit through so much testing! It is hard for elementary students to be able to stay focused long enough to complete the answers and get over the challenges of taking these tests on computers.  Some of the questions are worded in confusing ways that even can trip up an adult. I find my son is now being taught how to answer a question on this test and not how to LEARN.  


Shouldn't the end goal be to foster our children's natural curiosity and to build a lifetime of learning?  Life isn't just one test, it is about learning how to figure out what you don't understand.  It is about finding what you have passion for and finding more about those things.  


I looked at the test results and wanted someone to give me an explanation of what the results meant.  The information released was useless.  I think of all the great things that the money spent on developing this test could have been used for.  

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@CUMomof2 

Instructional precision and the fostering of creativity are both needed in the education of all students.  Finding the correct balance, as you imply, is essential.  One must not be forfeited for the other.  The penchant for too much emphasis upon testing, compared with creativity, is hurting public education today, as most can see.  Testing must not become an end in itself, but instead be used as a diagnostic tool for fostering the continuing growth of all students.

ScienceTeacher671
ScienceTeacher671

As far as reading and math go, I think "more realistic" is a better descriptor than "more rigorous."  It's been obvious for a while that the state tests were declaring students "proficient" when they were anything but.  


The question is, what will be done now? Will students actually be held back and/or given sufficient remediation to allow them to catch up, or will they continue to be promoted, with teachers still being expected to provide remediation and acceleration to students in the same classes?  


It would be very helpful if we were allowed to group students working at the same level - regardless of age - together, and let them all learn at the same rate.  


As a high school teacher, I'm not sure how I can get students who arrive in my class several years below grade level to pass a test that's written in grade-level language they can't read, and uses math they are incapable of.  


Our kids are on a 4x4 block. I got my December 2014 results last month, and the May 2015 results last week. My students take the test in 2 weeks.  What could/should I do differently?  I do not know. 

bewildered72
bewildered72

The Milestones were the answer to our students' poor performance nationally.  Can someone please explain the wisdom behind creating a more rigorous test to address our students' low ahievement?  Instead of spending $108million plus on creating the Milestones, why was that money not invested on addressing the factors that are the root of our students' poor achievement (factors associated with poverty for example)?  Why was that $108 million plus not used to provide teachers with effective staff development to meet students' needs to improve their achievement instead of creating a more difficult test?  The standards I teach did not change, but the test did.  I was not given any professional development by the state to know how to prepare my students according to this change.  Over the last several years my students' end of course test scores exceeded the state's, so I felt that I knew how to adequately prepare them for the Milestones.  I felt completely blindsided by the scores I received this week. The only purposes the Milestones have served are shifting blame (because it is easier than taking real action) and lining the pockets of testing companies.  

BrLangley
BrLangley

And Georgia DOE is wanting to know why teachers are leaving the profession!!! Well, there is your answer loud and clear!!! They are setting us up for failure!

Christie_S
Christie_S

@BrLangley Yep.  On my way out now.  I'll dust off the old accounting degree instead.  :(

readcritic
readcritic

@BrLangley I teach 9th Lit and few of the questions actually test literature. It is basically a reading test and high school lit teachers do not teach reading specifically. That is the job of a reading specialist who would diagnose such things as student weakness in comparison/contrast, comprehension, sequential order, etc. Yes, some of those skills are needed for lit study, but it is a different animal. Who makes these tests? Obviously they don't use a group of English lit teachers.

suj
suj

In high schools that are on 4x4 block, the teachers are receiving the results 11 months after the tests from last December, and a mere TWO WEEKS before this year's fall semester test date.

Of course, last year's high school students were aware that last year's tests didn't count, so most just chose C for every answer so they could spend the rest of the period goofing off. So, the results for high school are meaningless anyway.

ATLPeach
ATLPeach

The same can be said about SLOs. The tests are created by teachers. These teachers then give that same test to their students as a part of their evaluation. How is that faiir? There are no study guides for those that didn't create the test. As an elementary specialist, I only see my students once per week. This doesn't include the weeks I don't see them due to assembly programs, teacher work days, holidays, etc. I am expected to show growth with an entire grade level, make that two grade levels, on a test that has little to do with how I teach. Some of my classes have well over 28 students. Many of the students have IEPs. There is no classroom assistance. We're just expected to somehow reach everyone in the short amount of time that we see them. Help is rarely if ever offered to non -core teachers. We get no feedback on these teacher created tests. I'm just expected to do it again the following year and if my students are successful I am labeled as a bad teacher. Frankly it's all a joke but it's really no laughing matter.

readcritic
readcritic

@mgram2 @ATLPeach Just be aware that the state and school can dock your pay and refuse to renew your teaching certificate based on your very subjective evaluation.

mgram2
mgram2

@ATLPeach I totally understand this.
I'm an art teacher giving an SLO to my 4th graders on art vocabulary and that I didn't even learn until college. 
So screw it. I'm going to keep teaching how I teach and if I get a bad evaluation score so be it. 
They can take my SLO scores and compare that to my classroom observations. It won't match up.

Hillary's Emails
Hillary's Emails

These tests exist because traditional public schools too often fail to provide children with an adequate education, despite a half century of "reforms" and promises.

Let's not forget that key fact.

Hillary's Emails
Hillary's Emails

Nor are teachers' assessments of the learning going on in their classrooms accurate.

mgram2
mgram2

@Hillary's Emails I would argue that these tests exist to devalue public education and promote private corporate reforms. 


class80olddog
class80olddog

And also because teachers' grades are not truly indicative of mastery

phillygirl1964
phillygirl1964

@readcritic @Hillary's Emails THIS, I believe is the million dollar question! By the time you take out lunch, recess, specials, and transition time, we have approx. 280 minutes of actual instruction a day. Of course, this is often interrupted by behavior issues, writing nurse passes, assemblies, district testing, and a myriad of other things. Then my students go home to situations where at best, the parents care, but are overloaded and stressed themselves to make time to work with their child. More often than not, at least in the schools I've been in, the parent's attitude about education is that either it isn't important because you can just grow up and live on welfare, or they expect us to do it all while they do nothing. You wouldn't believe how difficult it can be to get a parent just to come in for a conference to discuss THEIR struggling child. WHEN WILL THEY BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE? Then when they do come in, it's all talk and still no action on their part. The buck seems to always stop with us (the teacher). The 60+ hours a week I put in will never be enough if the students and parents are not responsible for their part.  

newsjunkie3
newsjunkie3

@Hillary's Emails The dissolution of the family has contributed to children not taking advantage of a free education. Check stats from the early 1900's and compare to now.

madteacher
madteacher

That is just not true. Teachers are doing a good job in a horrible situation. I invite you to come to any public school and actually see what happens in a classroom. Teachers are dealing with much more than teaching. They are having to be parents also and that is where the breakdown is. We can't be both.

class80olddog
class80olddog

So why are we debating the "true purpose" of a test timeline that is not going to be repeated in the future?

class80olddog
class80olddog

So the students who took these tests have not received their grades for the classes? Since they count for 20%

AnotherMom
AnotherMom

@class80olddog Last years tests did not count for their final, but in APS they made up their own "standardized" finals for the classes that had Milestone tests.  We have not been given the scores for individual students yet for the milestone tests.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

GaDOE has sent me two emails about Green's concerns: DOE says, "Teachers should have everything possible to see how students are performing in all content areas, down to the domain level. In the future, as planned, there will be a two week turnaround from the time the testing company receives the testing documents from a school to when the school receives the information. It will be up to each district to determine how/when they get that information to their teachers."

class80olddog
class80olddog

They set the standards AFTER the test was given?

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@class80olddog They used actual student performance to help inform the standards underpinning each of the performance levels.

dg417s
dg417s

@MaureenDowney I'm just looking at some information sent to me - 25% of the Biology test is "Ecology." That's pretty broad. 20% of the Economics test is Personal Finance - that's 6 different standards and about 20 different individual threads.

AnotherMom
AnotherMom

@MaureenDowney Did they give any explanation as to how what took them months and months to grade is now going to be able to be grades in two weeks?

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Wascatlady 

Hopefully, the technological age is just beginning so that, in the near future, the standardized test score results of students can be immediately transferred to computers which teachers can pull up immediately and, thus, see the student's complete academic developmental history immediately in order to plan effectively - just as physicians can now pull up immediately each of his/her patient's medical developmental history in order to better diagnose individual medical difficulties and prescribe effective, individual remedies.

ScienceTeacher671
ScienceTeacher671

@MaureenDowney @class80olddog Why didn't they do it the way they tell US to do it? What do the students need to know? How will you know if they know it?


If they knew what students had to be able to do when they designed the tests, they should have been able to get last year's results back to us within two weeks.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@AnotherMom @MaureenDowney Sort of reminds me of all the lies we heard, year after year,about how we'd get the results back from the CRCT in time to use them, but then something or other went wrong and we didn't get them until after school started the next year.  Finally, years into using the CRCT,  BY THE TIME THEY DISCONTINUED THE CRCT, they had fail lists ready before school was out, but not in time for the intensive "summer school" our system put on the last few weeks of school to prepare the failing kids for the retest (whose results came back in the summer). So we had to guess at who would fail, and thus occasionally remediate the kids who had mysteriously passed (due to the manipulation of the cut scores, we guessed.)  And the state would continue to use the same vendors who would PROMISE that next year would be different.  Andno one was ever retained.  Well,maybe one student a year at my school.


It was, and is, a racket.

BlueinGA
BlueinGA

@MaureenDowney @class80olddog Setting standards to proclaim 50 % of children failing is criminal. We can set sales standards to proclaim 50% of salespeople failing, standards to proclaim 50 % of doctors filing, standards to proclaim 50% of anyone failing. This is ridiculous. Anyone who has ever taught at any level - elementary to medical school knows a test can be made and standards set so that any percent of students you want to fail will fail. Until private schools have to take the same tests to stay credited, parents should opt out of this ridiculous testing cattle.


ScienceTeacher671
ScienceTeacher671

@Christie_S @MaureenDowney Not to mention, the old tests told us HOW MANY questions students got correct in each domain. The new test just tells if students should be remediated, monitored, or accelerated in that domain.  What does that MEAN??

ScienceTeacher671
ScienceTeacher671

@MaureenDowney My students have 4 domains, divided into 10 standards, each of which is divided into several sub-standards.  The reports I've received tell me that for each student, I should either "remediate learning," "monitor learning," or "accelerate learning" in each domain.  


What does that tell YOU, if you see it on your child's test results?  It tells me very little.

rmartin13
rmartin13

@MaureenDowney DOE says teachers have everything possible "down to the domain level".   


That means that I now know that 40% of my students struggled in the geometry portion/domain of the course; unfortunately there is over 20 standards associated with that domain.  I then have to take a stab at which standard(s) needs to be beefed up and wait another year to find out if I made the necessary corrections.  To compound the problem not all standards are equal, some are more involved then others.


  A teacher who gives a SLO (Student Learning Objective) in contrast will know exactly which domain, which standard, and even the exact question(s) that their students struggled with and can then make an informed decision the following year.


  I really would like to hear GaDOE's response to my post.    

Christie_S
Christie_S

@MaureenDowney Just drilling down to the domain is the problem.  We teachers need to know in which STANDARD gave the students the most problems.  


Each domain has many standards.  Which standards are problematic?

dg417s
dg417s

Here's what I know..... In my area we dropped from 80 to 60-some-odd questions (I don't know the exact number). Of these, I know they had nationally normed questions that may or may not have related to my content (do those count towards the students' scores and my evaluation?) and I am sure like on EOCT there were field test items that don't count. How many questions now result in 20% of my students' grades and 50% of my evaluation? 

prtyof4
prtyof4

And this is why parents refused the test.  Parents also get NO VALUABLE DATA from the test and are not allowed to see any of the questions or answers.  There is no way this test is being used to "drive my child's instruction this year" as we were told last year!   The IOWA scores are back in weeks and give a very comprehensive view of a child's strength and weaknesses and are NATIONALLY normed,  Why are we reinventing the wheel?  Easy  - to profit test companies and prepare the way to convert schools to charter schools.  Follow the money!!

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Pitiful.  The lack of respect for teachers in the classroom is jarring, even to this retired teacher.  Another reason demonstrated why politics creates destructive hubris in politicians and in billionaires, who do not serve to advance the betterment of instructional delivery in Georgia.


Thank you, Clara Totenberg Green, for taking the time to write your excellent column and thank you to Maureen Downey for publishing it.  I will pray that Georgia's DOE and Georgia's politicians will take notice of your comments and will take positive action to include teachers in the results of this testing while the diagnostic data can be used to make instruction more precise. 

Ignorance is not bliss, and, yet, it often creates hubris in some of those with power.  Shameful.

Crackers and Juice
Crackers and Juice

I am to the point where I don't want my kids taking these tests. They are stressful enough on typical kids.These tests are even worse for those with special needs. The testing last spring destroyed my child with autism's confidence and really stressed him out.  These kids with disabilities get pushed to take these very stressful tests, and parents have little say on the matter. If I had it my way, my kids wouldn't take them. Because they have special education placement with supports in the mainstream classrooms, they have to take these stupid tests if we want them to have any chance of getting a regular diploma. There is very little wiggle room. This situation needs to change. Give parents of exceptional kids the right to refuse testing and have alternate assessments but keep their kids in the typical classrooms and give them the chance to get a regular diploma. I hate the fact that the GAA is only limited to the lowest of the low and so restricted. There are many kids out there with disabilities who can have their potential and progress measured in far better ways than these standardized tests. Give teachers the freedom to teach more than just a test. Give special education teachers more options. Stop putting these kids in boxes. Un-f**k our educational system.

class80olddog
class80olddog

That is what Least Restrictive Environment has done.

class80olddog
class80olddog

So you want your SPED child to receive a regular diploma without demonstrating that they have learned the minimum required knowledge/skills, is that correct?

prtyof4
prtyof4

@Crackers and Juice You do have a say.  Simply send a letter stating that you the parent refuse testing of your child.  Many parents did this last year.  Check Opt Out GA on Facebook.