Did Georgia make a mistake going it alone on tests? Should we have stuck with national Common Core tests?

Jemelleh Coes, Georgia’s 2014 state teacher of the year,  participated in a recent study on the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and Smarter Balanced exams aligned to the Common Core State Standards.

A special education language arts and reading teacher from Statesboro, Coes writes about how impressed she was with the tests. I thought her op-ed was timely in view of our discussion yesterday on Georgia’s decision to drop out of PARCC and create its own test.

For background: In 2013, Gov. Nathan Deal and Superintendent John Barge pulled Georgia out of the PARCC consortium of states because of  the projected cost of the new test under development. The PARCC test was predicted to cost about $30 per pupil, almost double the per-pupil cost of assessments in Georgia.

Deal and Barge said the PARCC test, which covers math and English/language arts, would have cost Georgia as much as $27 million a year — more than the state’s entire testing budget for multiple subject tests. Instead, the state created its own tests, the Georgia Milestones, which rolled out last year. The decision leaves Georgia parents unable now to compare their children’s performance against peers in other states.

At the time, state Sen. Fran Millar, a Republican from Dunwoody who once served as chairman of the Senate’s Education Committee, said he was not sure the price tag for the PARCC test was too high. “We spend nearly $8 billion a year on education, ” he said. “Was $30 million really, at the end of the day, too much?”

That question has taken on more significance now that Gov. Deal wants to move to a merit pay system in which student scores on the Milestones would determine half of a teacher’s annual rating.

At a Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education forum Friday, Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington-based education think tank,  echoed Millar’s concern, saying Georgia made a mistake going with a cheaper, less comprehensive test.

With that background, here is Coes’ column:

By Jemelleh Coes

Every teacher knows that there are certain students who just stay with you. You know they’re destined to do great things, and you count yourself lucky to have been part of their education. For me, one of those students was a young girl named Rachel who is still one of the most brilliant writers I’ve known. She won awards for her nonfiction stories and plays; she was recognized nationally for her gifts. But Rachel was known as struggling student because she scored poorly on standardized tests.

How much homework is too much? How much causes family stresses?

Has Georgia gotten testing right with its new Milestones test or should we have stuck with other states developing a national test?

If our students are our greatest joys, then the standardized tests that teachers must administer are our banes. We help children prepare for them, we give them testing strategies, and we hope that the results don’t pigeon-hole students like Rachel into low-learner categories. Until recently, though, that was really the only outcome for Rachel and other students like her who see the world differently and who think beyond filling in Scantron bubbles.

I recently took part in a research study that compared previously used state exams with the new assessments developed by PARCC and Smarter Balanced. For the first time, a group of the nation’s top teachers sat down with three of the tests, answered the questions, and then participated in a comprehensive analysis and discussion of our findings. We spent more than 20 hours with the tests, looking at them side-by-side and evaluating how well each one measured students’ content learning progress. By the end of the study, the results were clear: the PARCC assessment is superior to previous tests.

The final report, which was produced by the National Network of State Teachers of the Year, had five key findings around the assessments. They are:

  • PARCC better reflects the range of reading and math knowledge and skills students need to have mastered;
  • PARCC includes items that better measure a full range of cognitive thinking from recalling memorized facts to high-level thinking that requires analysis;
  • PARCC supports excellent teaching practices that ensure learning and make it unnecessary for teachings to focus on “testing strategies;”
  • PARCC provides information relevant to a wide-range of students, particularly those who are above average in their performance;
  • PARCC is more grade-level appropriate than previous assessments.
Dr. John Barge names Jemelleh Coes Georgia Teacher of the Year in 2014. (DOE)

Dr. John Barge names Jemelleh Coes 2014 Georgia Teacher of the Year. (DOE)

There is more to education that tests, but they are a necessary component of a full education because we need to be able to measure how well students are learning content and where they are struggling. The feedback that teachers get from the PARCC exam gives us a clearer picture of student’s academic progress, which is exactly what we need to make sure students succeed in school.

The basic fact is, multiple-choice questions have become the standard for assessing students, but their learning and achievement go so far beyond what multiple choice can measure. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there’s really not any test out today that can truly measure learning, but the PARCC test is the best I’ve seen yet.

Georgia recently released the results of its state exams, and the results are a fairly decent picture of the academic content students are learning. But having taken the PARCC exam myself now, I know that the state exam could be improved in how well it tests the full range of content knowledge we want to make sure students have, how deeply and critically it asks students to think to provide full answers, and how well it measures students’ academic content acquisition. I hope our policymakers and education officials stay the course with the PARCC exam because it is a test worth taking. It is the kind of test we want students to take and gives educators and parents the results they need to make the best academic choices for children.

 

Reader Comments 0

14 comments
jerryeads
jerryeads

The two testing 'clubs' developing assessments for the Common Core were honest (if profit as well as service motivated) attempts to improve the egregiously rotten condition of cheap, poorly developed and hence meaningless state testing across the country. For so long have we been doing this we've actually come to accept as adequate the incredibly shoddy workmanship of the testing industry. It's like when Asian automobiles first came to the states - they were very inexpensive but holy cow they were horrible. The difference is they got better. Testing hasn't. The PARCC and Smarter Balanced groups attempted to change that and, no surprise, it was going to cost more. What we have now is a Yugo. They tried to give us at least a Buick. What we got instead was a re-skinned Yugo.

Want to REALLY make things better? Good teachers assess (not just test) their kids constantly. They know FAR better how their kids are doing than any one-shot-in-the-dark 50-minute special can tell you, and what they need to do to help them get better. Put those bux into helping teachers get better at doing their own assessment.

Want REAL accountability? That's what NAEP does already. Let teachers actually teach instead of do prep for Yugo testing and the NAEP results might actually improve. 

Legong
Legong

Find a way to use NAEP results to rate teachers, and suddenly that test too would be disparaged.

Right here in this column space. Guaranteed.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

PUBLIC ANNOUNCEMENT:  Gov. Deal will give his State of the State Address (his next to last one) this evening at 7 p.m., televised on Channel 8, PBS-TV, on the broadcast, "Lawmakers."  Following Gov. Deal's address will be a discussion by Georgia's leaders regarding Deal's plans, as they may show up in Georgia's legislature this session and next.

Legong
Legong

Another day, another attack on testing and accountablity ...

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

"The decision leaves Georgia parents unable now to compare their children’s performance against peers in other states."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

This has been a bad decision, just as not expanding Medicaid as part of Obamacare in Georgia has been a bad decision.  There is something quite humane in Governor Deal's persona, yet he seems to align his political agenda with those who are not as instinctively humane as he, it seems.  I hope Gov. Deal and Georgia's Republican-dominated legislature will reconsider these two vital decisions - not implementing PARCC nor Expanded Medicaid for Georgia's working poor. It is time for Georgia to join the 21st Century with other more progressive states. Georgia must stop identifying with being a Rebel state in order to progress.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Wascatlady @MaryElizabethSings 

Their obstructive attitude, unfortunately, is a carry-over from having lost the Civil War, imho.  ;-)   (Though Georgia's current politicians are not fully conscious of how they, and previous generations, have been subtly affected by this long-standing and deeply embedded reason for defiance to the federal government in the South and in some Western states.)

JBBrown1968
JBBrown1968

@Starik @MaryElizabethSings @Wascatlady Damn.....you and fruity pebble are silly! Thomas Jefferson is long dead and so is the war between the states! I am sure that people in Chicago, and New York are far more educated. Hahahhahaha.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@JBBrown1968 

As long as the words, "All men are created equal" live, Thomas Jefferson lives.  When the state of Texas threatens to secede from the Union every few years, the remnants of the Civil War remain. We need to look deeper than you are doing in that post.

CSpinks
CSpinks

@Starik @MaryElizabethSings @Wascatlady While MLK, Jr. was correct in reminding his audiences that "I am Somebody," The reason the GA educracy dodges nationally-normed testing, I think, is because our kids' overall, poor performances on such testing would show our educrats to be the incompetent, self-serving bunch that most of them are. Perceived inferiority among many of our fellow Southerners- White and Black- provides an important reason most of these fellow-citizens don't push for such testing.

Starik
Starik

@MaryElizabethSings @Wascatlady Black people were slaves to Southern whites, then subjected to Jim Crow by Southern whites, and Southern whites themselves were devastated by the loss of the Civil War and an extended period of backwardness and poverty.  Neither group has achieved as well economically or educationally as the winners of that war.  They both have feelings of inferiority (except in sports) that create a fear of being tested against the US population as a whole.

ErnestB
ErnestB

Wouldn't it be better to use a recognized, nationally normed test like the ITBS?  Using a test that makes it difficult to compare us to other states will ultimately make GA less competitive for future jobs if businesses lack confidence in our potential workforce.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

There was nothing about opting out of PARCC testing that was an"accident."  That implies an "Oops!"  It was a willful decision, based on political goals.  It was a decision conveniently hung on "expensive," not unlike the decision to forgo the expansion of Medicaid.


Designing our own tests, and, more importantly, being able to manipulate the scoring, allows state leaders resistance to providing an adequate public education to remain more hidden.  The emperor's lack of clothing would be obvious.


I suspect that PARCC tests would have made obvious that many of our kids, EVEN THOSE AT SOME OF THE "BEST" SCHOOLS, are not doing so well in comparison to those in other states. Their parents would not be pleased, and those parents VOTE!


As it is now, we can massage the cutoff scores so that "those" children will look bad, while "our" children (those of more means) would look like they were doing quite well. Because, you see, if the "best and most" don't do well, that MIGHT suggest that the STATE is failing to provide an adequate education.  If only some of the kids do poorly, that is because of their parents and teachers.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

There is one financial concern for Georgia:  The PARCC test design, scoring, etc, would not be awarded to anyone who might reward Georgian "leaders" with campaign money or make-work jobs, unlike the CRCT could have been, and how Milestones, or any other "homemade test, might become.