State school chief on Milestones meltdown: We’re fixing it

Georgia school chief Richard Woods has kept a lower profile than his predecessor. (AJC Photo)

The AJC asked Georgia State School Superintendent Richard Woods to discuss the technology glitches and grading delays that turned the Milestones tests into ordeals for some districts.

By Richard Woods

Testing is always met with apprehension, and that’s only heightened when issues arise. I take the responsibility of overseeing testing seriously, and want to provide a look at the process.

One of the most glaring lines of apprehension has been the concern that students are over-tested. Thanks to Senate Bill 364, eight Milestones tests will be eliminated and Student Learning Objectives will be greatly reduced or eliminated. The Milestones are now stronger and more accurate than the previous CRCT/EOCT in measuring student achievement as they align expectations with nationally recognized assessments, such as NAEP.

When issues with the End of Grade assessments arose this spring, I recommended – and the State Board approved – a waiver from using EOG scores for promotion/retention. I’m committed to a hold-harmless period for the use of test scores in teacher/leader evaluations and labeling additional schools as Priority or Focus. Technical issues have occurred as we continue to move towards an online testing system.

One such statewide event occurred on April 19. The issue was quickly identified and our testing vendor provided a solution within hours. I’ve received continual updates and our testing team has worked tirelessly to remain on call for districts.

The return of test results has been a challenge due to items requiring a student written response being added into the math and English language arts assessments. These items require students not only to answer the question, but provide their reasoning for their answer – to show what and how they know. These answers cannot be scored by a scanner. They must be read and evaluated by trained and qualified readers. This takes more time than our former tests which consisted only of multiple-choice items and could be scanned and scored very quickly. We are examining options to improve this turnaround time but what we can’t and won’t do is sacrifice accuracy.

Finally, there were some issues that arose at the local level: damaged internet cables, filters blocking testing content, not enough wireless access points. We’ve worked hand in hand with districts and provided flexibility as needed. We’re providing greater bandwidth, and the Governor’s Office is providing grants to enhance technology infrastructure. A stronger, more reliable system is being created.

Even as the overall process for online testing improves, districts continue to have paper-and-pencil as an alternative. However, districts have supported the move to online testing. Our voluntary statewide target for online testing this year was 30 percent — districts tested approximately 70 percent of students online this year and in many locations there were few, if any, problems.

Testing issues are very personal for the schools and students who experienced them. We are now listening and working with our school districts, parents, and students to develop options and solutions to improve the testing process. I am committed to making necessary changes while keeping the focus on our children and preparing them for life.

Reader Comments 0

38 comments
AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@HotDawg


I notice you are reading and posting on her blog. How many posts did you get on "Gitskooled with HotDawg" today?

LDH2O
LDH2O

So GA said they did not need national standards, we needed a GA way to teach and it seems that we got it.

Kay Draper Hutchinson
Kay Draper Hutchinson

There is no fixing a system of high stakes for adults that relies on children.

Kelland Waldrep
Kelland Waldrep

There will not be less testing next year. Just less milestones. EVERY teacher must still have a measure that will be used to calculate his/her score. AND the state is adding a new MANDATED test for kindergarteners within the first 6 weeks of school. (Every system MUST pilot one school in their system this year) Don't be fooled by the politicians and their double speak. It was an election year. Buckle up next year is not.

SteveM
SteveM

"Thanks to Senate Bill 364 . . . Student Learning Objectives will be greatly reduced or eliminated," says Superintendent Woods.

This is great news. I hadn't heard that SB 364 had provisions for SLOs. I'd be grateful for more info on how quickly we can "reduce or eliminate" these time-wasters.

Statistically, SLOs are neither valid nor reliable and therefore provide no useful data. They were created in haste as part of Race to the Top. Eliminating these deeply flawed measurement instruments would be one giant leap back toward sanity. 

Please tell us more, Maureen or Superintendent Woods.

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

Supt. Woods: “The Milestones are now stronger and more accurate than the previous CRCT/EOCT in measuring student achievement as they align expectations with nationally recognized assessments, such as NAEP.”

Please translate, someone, anyone.  What does “stronger” mean?  What does “more accurate” mean?  And how, exactly, do the Milestones “align expectations” with NAEP?

Supt. Woods: “Even as the overall process for online testing improves ….”

Okay, but at what consequences to students’ testing performance and learning?  Better?  Worse?  No difference?  Why?  Consider “Kids Do Worse on Computers When Taking Tests.”

Michael McIntyre
Michael McIntyre

This particular Superintendent seems waaaay in over his head. Not to mention that he has to keep the Governor's Office of Student Achievement out of his cookie jar (What happened to being the party of efficiency and small gov't?!?). Well, this fiasco is what happens when we persist in doing things on the cheap. If the state doesn't want to fund a world-class system of school districts, then they need to just need to come out and tell that to the citizens. Problem is, scrapping the current public education structure entirely would suit 30% of Georgians just fine.

Chelsea Margaret
Chelsea Margaret

The 30% who wrongly think that the schools in their community don't affect them at all.

cyadra
cyadra

Would u believe, I am still waiting for scores from the EOC for my visually impaired students who took the large print test.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@cyadra One year with CRCT we did not get the scores back until school started in the fall!

Amy Blafer
Amy Blafer

I still have one missing test score. My son's ELA test was incorrectly graded. He has to do a paper pencil test and type his written responses. None of the written responses were graded. As you can imagine the score was an F. The State said that me son had not completed any of the written response. Fortunately, the teacher who administered his test is also the school's testing coordinator. She had personally packed his test to be sent for grading so she knew that all parts of his test were there when it was shipped. We (and the school) requested a regrade. We are still waiting for a response from the State. His test was given May 3rd. It is June 17th. There is absolutely no accountability.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

The world according the the state DOE and the Georgia legislature!

Brandon Cheek
Brandon Cheek

We may be getting rid of some of the state based EOG test, but this does not mean that students will not be testing. In order to "show student growth" and evaluate the teachers, local districts will now have to create assessment for the subject areas that had the EOG assessment removed. In our district there will not be a reduction of testing, rather who the test creator will be has shifted. Instead of the state creating the assessments we will now rely on subpar district assessments created by Central Office staff that already has too much on their plate. Is this an improvement? Did this reach the bills intended purpose?

Denise Cox Barnes
Denise Cox Barnes

SLO tests are created by the subject area teachers in my district.

teachermom4
teachermom4

I know my district won't be getting rid of their pretest, end of quarter tests, and end of the year post tests. My fifth graders will still test for 33 days each year.

Astropig
Astropig

As usual,Mr. Woods brings a calm,rational perspective to the discussion to balance the immature hysteria promulgated in the media.More and more,I thank the voters for having the good sense to elect this guy over...Uh, I'm sorry,his opponent last time was such a non-entity,I can't recall his or her name.


Say what you will,this guy doesn't get rattled.He handles problems with a certain aplomb that is uncommon in government.

bu22
bu22

@Astropig "The return of test results has been a challenge due to items requiring a student written response being added into the math and English language arts assessments. These items require students not only to answer the question, but provide their reasoning for their answer – to show what and how they know. These answers cannot be scored by a scanner. They must be read and evaluated by trained and qualified readers. This takes more time than our former tests which consisted only of multiple-choice items and could be scanned and scored very quickly."  This is a serious "Duh" moment.  If he didn't think this was a problem, he is NOT smarter than a 5th grader.  Maybe he doesn't get rattled, but he needs to learn to think before acting (or choosing not to act).

Astropig
Astropig

@xxxzzz @Astropig



Just curious: How would you do it differently? 


Please answer that question with the following caveats in mind:


1) Your position has been made largely ceremonial and exercises very limited authority.


2) You have to work within the law and within federal strictures.


3) You have a limited budget that you have very little control over.


4) The bureaucracy beneath you may be opposed to your ideas,may be incompetent or just disinterested.


5) Your political opponents in the education establishment and the media never miss an opportunity to deliver a sucker punch when you speak or act.


Given that, please tell us how you'd solve the problem as easily you seem to think it can be solved.It looks a lot different up here in the stands (to use a sports analogy),than it does down there on the field.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Astropig "He handles problems with a certain aplomb that is uncommon in government."


You see aplomb.  I see a very far removed detachment.


If this were the first year we have had problems his response would be understandable.  Fact is, the problems go back to before his predecessor, and even to the predecessors before that!  So when will the state DOE learn?  If I had a child that failed like this repeatedly, I'd be thinking about holding them back or having sped testing done!


You know, the whole "accountability" thingy.

bu22
bu22

@Astropig @xxxzzz You either don't do an essay portion and/or don't have it count for end of course grades or promotion.  Its really, very, very simple.

Bitly
Bitly

The fact that problems in rolling out this new test were exaggerated by testing opponents isn’t lost on the Superintendent, I’m sure. 

Each year they will decry a fresh set of “issues,” but will face the same determination from the rest of us to bring more assessment and accountability into the public schools equation.

dreeves2004
dreeves2004

No. This is not a game of acceptable losses. For one child to have to repeat an entire year due to a flawed test, reshapes their entire future. That is no exaggeration either.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Bitly The problems were "exaggerated" only if you were not the one dealing with them!

bu22
bu22

@Bitly @Wascatlady The problem with timing of getting the scores back has been greatly understated.  The results are simply unacceptable.  They are messing with kid's lives.

Julie Hankin Goldberg
Julie Hankin Goldberg

I wish I understood the we're making this a hold harmless year for elementary and middle schools but counting it for 20% of our HS student's grade. The glitches and issues happened across the board, makes no sense.

Kathryn Antman
Kathryn Antman

Where is the "accountability" of the test makers?

Mack68
Mack68

So the state is finally realizing they're going to need to pony up if they're going to mandate all districts to administer online tests? 

Does the state have any idea how much money districts have diverted toward this online readiness? (technology infrastructure, bandwidth, etc.)

The ones who have made out like thieves in this are the IT consultants and vendors that districts all over the state have hired. The kids? - not so much.

It would also be nice if the state would fund some keyboarding instruction for young kids who are now expected to type the answers on these tests.

HollyJones
HollyJones

I heartily agree with the need for keyboarding instruction, but what will be sacrificed in the school day to make time for it? Elementary instructional time is jam packed trying to cover the million and one standards required by the state.

bu22
bu22

@Mack68 There is still no way they will grade this number of tests competently in a centralized manner for the written part in a timely manner.  How long does the SAT take to be returned?  They are giving themselves less than 3 weeks with the entire state being tested on multiple tests.

Wrecker
Wrecker

@xxxzzz @Mack68 SAT scores are released (usually) within 3 weeks.  ETS is competent and efficient.  The state and local BOEs are a different story.

bu22
bu22

@Wrecker @xxxzzz @Mack68 So "usually" within 3 weeks by an entity whose sole purpose is doing these tests.  Its a minor part of the state BOE and their use of the test means it needs to be "always" within 3 weeks.  The local boards do have a part, because they have to make sure the essay part gets in as well as dealing with the actual implementation of the on-line tests.

Wrecker
Wrecker

@xxxzzz @Wrecker @Mack68 As xxxzzz pointed out, the local schools play their part in administering the tests.  Any errors or delays in administering the tests or submitting the written portion affects the timeline.  SAT answers booklets are usually mailed the same day and are required to be mailed, at the latest, by the Monday following, express via private carrier.