Do Georgia’s new Milestones tests demand too much of younger students?

Are we asking too much of third graders? (AJC Archive.)

With some time to review the 2016 Milestones results, I see no cause for panic. Unless you are Atlanta, DeKalb or Clayton. The underperformance of some schools in those districts, especially APS, suggests they could be likely targets for state takeover.

The scores released last week from the Milestones also raise questions about what’s occurring with Georgia’s younger students, whose performance was disappointing and reignited the argument we have pushed down content that is too sophisticated.

(You can find metro Atlanta elementary school performance here, middle schools here and high schools here.)

Voters will decide in November whether to give Gov. Nathan Deal the power to take over failing schools and place them in his Opportunity School District. The benevolent language of the ballot question — Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance? – assures passage in my view.

The criteria for selection into the OSD are chronically low scores on the state rating index, which is called the College and Career Ready Performance Index. Test scores largely determine where a school ranks.

According to the AJC:

Atlanta Public Schools, which had some of the lowest pass rates in the metro area for English and math in the third, fifth and eighth grades, also had two of the four Georgia schools with a 0 percent proficiency rate in third grade English.

In DeKalb County, which competed with Clayton County and Atlanta for the mantle of low performer, Superintendent Steve Green said he saw promising signs, with 29 elementary schools doing at least as well in English in grades three and five as the state average.

Students in grades 3 through 8 take end-of-grade tests in language arts and math. In grades 5 and 8, science and social studies tests are added. High school students take end-of-course tests in 10 courses.

Statewide, there was a slight improvement in performance, although testing experts explain the bump reflects greater teacher familiarity with the tests, which were introduced last year.  However, there are emerging concerns around this year’s lackluster performance of the early grades, which some teachers blame on expecting younger kids to master overly complex material.

The AJC’s Ty Tagami noted: Third-and fourth-grade students showed improvement only in social studies. Fourth-grade students lost ground in English, and proficiency rates in math and science were flat in both grades.

Dana Rickman, director of policy and research for the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, told Tagami: I don’t know what’s going on with the little kids. Is it a resource issue with the teaching? Is it alignment of the standards with the tests? Are the tests too hard?

A teacher on AJC Get Schooled Facebook who read Rickman’s comment responded: Yes, they are developmentally inappropriate for young children. How about let teachers teach more instead of testing “little kids.”

Another teacher said about the Milestones: They are too difficult for 3rd and 4th graders. And they shouldn’t have to type their answers if they don’t know how to type well.

In the Facebook discussion on this blog, a commenter said: “What the United States does differently from the highest performing schools in the world is to school and test our youngest children in inappropriate ways. The Common Core curriculum was developed without regard to developmental appropriateness and is very age-inappropriate for the younger students. It naturally follows that the testing is also very developmentally inappropriate. Not only are test passages’ reading level frequently years about the grade of the child being tested, and the material beyond the ability of many that age to be properly grasped, but the functionality of the test itself (computers, typing, calculators, etc) is above what they can do. Not to mention that sitting for that many hours is also beyond what they should be able to do behaviorally.”

I would love to hear from teachers and parents on these questions. On one hand, experts tell us we expect too little of students in the United States, that even young children are capable of far more than we ask in our schools.

On the other,  I hear teachers complain we are teaching developmentally inappropriate content to younger and younger children.

Which is it?

 

 

Reader Comments 0

45 comments
ANyTime
ANyTime

It's a shame that our state leader sees the taking over of schools as a government issue. I can think of a million better solutions but the truth remains that the lowest performing schools often get and stay lower as a result of the household income/family education level/English language level they are in. Those who want to get out and have the means will and do. As with any school, these schools are going to have bad teachers, great teachers, and "good enough" teachers. The issue is that they are in schools with such deficits it is difficult to catch up. Of course the BEST solution would be to have all great teachers at those schools (as I'm sure the gov will say they'll do). More realistically, the key is practicing sound instructional practices, smaller class sizes, extended school days (possibly even year round school), and a caring and safe environment. My bet is that these are the types of "fixes" that will be brought with the OSD, but not offed under normal school funding, scheduling, etc. I somewhat blame the school districts for not getting creative in these areas as a charter or private school would, instead being rigid with their bus schedules, class sizes, etc. Guess what? If you don't then the state will. Time to meet the individual needs of schools and move past the "cookie cutter" that is easier to monitor and fund.

I certainly don't trust education decisions coming from this leader who formed his "education task force" without current educators, using many business and higher ups to decide what should change at the school level. In addition, the First Lady, who happened to visit our diverse school referred to our Asian (Burmese, Vietnamese, Nepali, etc) as "orientals". Really took us aback and made us wonder how she and Mr. Governor spoke about our dear students at home. I don't believe they are in tune with the cultures that truly make up our schools currently and likely shouldn't be over the educational decisions that would effect them and not their own culture/race.

Robert Betancourt
Robert Betancourt

The whole school system needs to be overhauled. Teach kids things they really need in life, not the book crap bored authors sell.

Itsbrokeletsfixit
Itsbrokeletsfixit

Another crazy thing about Standardized Testing: We spend an enormous amount of money requiring all students to take these tests, but the tests, while measuring something about each student, don't help the student. The student gets no meaningful feedback. 


The tests are really used to rate schools. It would be far, far cheaper to just select a random sample of a few students at each school, administer tests to those selected and obtain a statistically accurate sample from the school. It would provide the same information about the school at a small fraction of the cost; be much easier to administer and grade test results, and far less disruptive to instruction.  The money saved at each school could be distributed back to the school instead of the testing industry, and students selected to take the test could be honored for representating their school.


I still don't believe in standardized testing, but this might be a way to make it a little more sane - both financially and academically. 

Lexie Kennedy Clutter
Lexie Kennedy Clutter

I actually worry about that testing for my little one who starts kindergarten this year....

Lexie Kennedy Clutter
Lexie Kennedy Clutter

Susan Blount Campbell - I wonder how that would look. I am a teacher! \U0001f610

San Thrasher
San Thrasher

It's has definitely confused most of them... Especially the one's who been in school a while... The new kid's just starting may have a better chance at understanding...

Carlos_Castillo
Carlos_Castillo

I'm a long way from convinced that these test ought to be given online -- or at least via computer -- for children below 6th grade.


That being said, I don't think that performance issues stem from complexity of the material; rather I think that it comes from lack of an ability to focus and too little homework assigned for doing at home for too long.  Students who are average or below rarely do homework at home, even when the school is a prestigious one in the lusher suburban areas. 


Try asking them.  They'll tell you that they finish most of their homework assignments before they leave school -- even high school.

Itsbrokeletsfixit
Itsbrokeletsfixit

@Carlos_Castillo Not sure what homework has to do with taking standardized tests, but since you brought it up a lot of research shows that homework is not a very effective teaching tool for many students; at least in the way it is used. I can tell you that standardized tests typically cover such a wide span of content that teachers do not have enough time to cover the material in class (at least in any meaningful way). Therefore the back-up is to assign new content material as homework so the students can at least be exposed to it before test time. Not good pedagogy and, unless the student has good family support at home capable of helping with new conceptual material, often confuses him/her. Just another example of the test driving education and forcing the teacher into poor instructional methodology. 

Caroline Reid Crow
Caroline Reid Crow

Yes, it does. It is abusive. It has also not been validated by a third party - as promised.

Susan Blount Campbell
Susan Blount Campbell

What the United States does differently from the highest performing schools in the world is to school and test our youngest children in inappropriate ways. The Common Core curriculum was developed without regard to developmental appropriateness and is VERY age-inappropriate for the younger students. It naturally follows that the testing is also very developmentally inappropriate. Not only are test passages' reading level frequently years about the grade of the child being tested, and the material beyond the ability of many that age to be properly grasped, but the functionality of the test itself (computers, typing, calculators, etc) is above what they can do. Not to mention that sitting for that many hours is also beyond what they should be able to do behaviorally. And then when they fail, and they will, they are punished with retesting and summer school. Could this BE any more abusive? REFUSE these tests in grades 3-8! They are invalid and unreliable anyway!

Itsbrokeletsfixit
Itsbrokeletsfixit

Exactly!!! It's Nuts! Why are we doing this to our children? No wonder they don't like school. No wonder they want to drop out. All this test craziness has driven public education  (and our common sense) off the rails. 

What is the point???? 

We   are   bullying    our    own     children!    And   Their Teachers!   And no one seems concerned.   The only answer now seems to be to opt out of standardized tests. The opt out movement is building. Over 20% of the students in NYC opted out of the 2015 tests and that increased to 22% for the  2016 tests (see Diane Ravitch's blog).  New York State officials are starting to listen. Lets get Georgia parents aware of their responsibilities to their own children. Your government seems ignorant of theirs.  Protect your kids from these crazy standardized tests. 

OPT OUT GEORGIA!

Michael Rock
Michael Rock

Ask the kids. Don't like that answer, ask the parents. Don't like that answer, ask the teachers. I'll save you the trouble...YES.

Blynne Roberts
Blynne Roberts

Absolutely Yes!!! These children are TOO YOUNG to be stressed about passing a test!! >:(

Itsbrokeletsfixit
Itsbrokeletsfixit

The real problem here is using standardized tests to evaluate and rank students, schools, and teachers. These tests are one dimensional and actually measure the wrong things. Nevertheless they are very powerful because they provide an easy measuring stick for everyone to compare schools, and kids. Public education will continue to languish as long as these tests drive decisions. Already, our children and the teaching profession have been seriously harmed by this testing insanity. When the Governor's OSD is passed, it will put Georgia in the same fix as a number of other states that have tried this approach and it has come to no good result.  For an abundance of documentation about this you should read the blogs of Diane Ravitch, Mercedes Schnider (especially her research on the New Orleans school district takeover); Lindsay Wagner's article about Charter schools in North Carolina and the tradegy of closings (StudentsFirst closing displaced 1,100 students). Bottom line is that these charter schools, school vouchers, the No Child Left Behind Act, Race to the Top, Common Core, and other school "reforms" all promising to "fix" the broken public schools have not worked! After being tried for about 20 years! Lots of excuses but very poor results!  Worse, in many places they have resulted in bullying students and teachers, made test scores the holy grail of K-12 education, and make many charter school operators (whether public or private charters) rich while not improving education; often, in fact, making it worse.

Its time to quit tearing our public schools and communities apart in the name of "fixing education" and take a fresh look. Attacking teachers hasn't resolved anything either. 

So, lets get rid of the tests! Reduce class sizes; provide adequate funding for public schools, provide decent pay AND upgrade the education programs for teachers. 

A lot more to do, but that would be a good start. 

Ask yourself: 1. What is more vital to our society and our future that educating our future generation? 2. What should a student know and be able to do when he/she graduates to become a good citizen and contribute to the world? 3. What must we do to get our children interested in and EXCITED about learning? 

As long as these standardized tests are driving education, progress in education will doomed. Tests make education boring and cause kids to hate school or be terrified of it. They cause teachers and administrators, fearful of loosing their jobs, to bully and intimidate young children.  

School, especially for young children, should be fun and exciting, so they can understand the real joy of learning and the power of discovering how their world works. We are destroying this opportunity for them in the name of trying to help. Its mean, idiotic, and just nuts.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Yes, the Milestones as designed are developmentally inappropriate for little kids in terms of length, the delivery of the test, and the scope of the test.


How about showing the public what some of the parts of the test have looked like? Oh, that's right!  Like the CRCT was, it's a big secret. That way, no one can point out how messed up this is!

Astropig
Astropig

@Wascatlady It's proprietary,copyrighted material.Showing the actual test would be dumb.It would amount to organized cheating.That might be popular at APS,but not advisable for everyone else.I think "sample test" excerpts are good,but that's about it.

Retiredmathteacher
Retiredmathteacher

@Astropig @Wascatlady The College Board releases parts of each AP test every year.  The IB international releases ALL tests 24 hours after they are taken.  They obviously replace those questions in next year's test.  No one is saying to release the tests so they can be memorized.  Instead, we would all like to see a good sample of questions that were on an actual test.  Tests should be secure, and there should be safeguards against cheating.


By the way, IB International also strongly encourages feedback on each question from the subject area teachers.  Fairly recently, a question on the Mathematics SL exam was shown by multiple reviewers to be unintentionally ambiguous with multiple possible solutions.  The powers to be at IB went back and adjusted the scores as a result.  How refreshing!

Active Voter
Active Voter

@Astropig @Wascatlady How about not always equating cheating to APS? I still don't hear the loud roar of the cloud around Michelle Rhee, the other schools in GA with a different population, & other school systems in other parts of the USA that have been caught. Teachers who stayed and weathered the storm knew we will get the burnt of what we didn't do. Enough is Enough! 

Active Voter
Active Voter

@Wascatlady Sample questions are available online and when looked upon by third grade parents, students, & teachers, it's very daunting due to the length of writing expectations. It's inappropriate in age and there was no consideration of the natural, physical development of a child. Also, keep in mind that in the last 13 years there have been QCCS, GPS, Common Core, Milestones..and none of these were introduced at the kindergarten level and then rolled up in each grade. In the meantime, the staff in the next grade level could've been trained thoroughly while the grade below was implementing the foundation. Of course, it seems that GA and other states don't think these things through.

speccie
speccie

"With some time to review the 2016 Milestones results, I see no cause for panic. Unless you are Atlanta, DeKalb or Clayton. The underperformance of some schools in those districts, especially APS, suggests they could be likely targets for state takeover."

Sounds as though the problem is more or less confined to the usual suspects (districts).

Casting a jaundiced eye on the tests themselves therefore smacks of the excuse-making readers have come to expect.

Astropig
Astropig

@Starik @speccie


" Simply swap the teachers, administrators and other staff from a school that's failing to one that's succeeding?  Study what effect it has on students. "


Because that's just moving the disaster from spot to another.

elementary-pal
elementary-pal

@Starik @speccie And then take the staff from the "successful" (if you consider high test scores successful) and put them in a "failing" school.  I have often said I could swap our faculty with that of the most successful school in our district and the teachers from the affluent school would still be good teachers, but they would not raise the test scores at our school.  But our teachers, working in the affluent school, would produce higher test scores, because they have perfected the strategies that work. 


Our school is 97% free and reduced lunch, in an area of generational poverty.  We tested every child in Kindergarten to see if they qualify for ESOL services and all of our poor, white children qualify - that's in addition to our children who come to school with little to no English spoken at home.  Our teachers are then expected to bring these children to the same level as the two-income, upper-middle class students at the so-called "successful" school.  


In my opinion, we are very successful.  We send students to middle school who are polite, well-mannered, excited about learning, and pretty close to grade level. Our students participate in service learning and understand that no matter what your lot in life, there are others who are more needy. Our students, starting at Kindergarten, can look you in the eye, shake your hand, and introduce themselves, they can explain their thinking in math and reading, they can explain the pledge of allegiance and sing the National Anthem - but because they struggle with a standardized test, our school is considered to be "failing."  

Itsbrokeletsfixit
Itsbrokeletsfixit

@Starik @speccie That is nuts! Children are not ships or objects. Each child is an individual and different. Each community they come from provides a different reality to the child that is entering school. 

To improve education we have to stop looking at our children as blank slates to pour facts into so that they can pass tests. Teachers must have the freedom to learn about each student that arrives and gain understanding of that student's world, then find ways to engage her students and expand their understanding of the world we all live in. Teaching is a very challenging profession but is not given respect or understanding from our society. 

Itsbrokeletsfixit
Itsbrokeletsfixit

@elementary-pal @Starik @speccie Yes, Elementary Pal, you ARE very successful and that is in spite of the standardized tests. Until we realize that the goal of educating our children is Not training them to take tests, we will continue to loose our opportunity to actually educate them: to get them excited about learning and lead them on a path to become good citizens. 

I'm very proud for your clear vision of education and what it sounds like you are accomplishing with your students. 

Why can't our State Officials understand the damage all this test madness is doing to our kids?

Active Voter
Active Voter

@speccie I challenge anyone (especially our bright politicians) to spend a week NOT a day in our shoes...shadowing, observing, talking to these students and us when there's not a political agenda or run for their seat in Congress. A lot of times the needs are different and varied. There is not one solution, there are many solutions needed. I am still smh how a young woman came from a rural area in Louisiana; garnered two degrees; passed every standardized test in adulthood (Praxis, GRE) the first time; managed to miss all these onslaught of tests and still "made good"? It wasn't about the testing, it was about the relevant learning. However, the kids and support are vastly different and the lack of responsibility expected and taken away from kids and parents are atrocious. These few affect the whole.

Starik
Starik

@speccie The Navy has what it calls a "hull swap." If an aircraft carrier is undergoing extensive maintenance, they swap the crew of that carrier into another carrier of the same class that's completing maintenance.  Why not try that with a very few Metro Schools?  Simply swap the teachers, administrators and other staff from a school that's failing to one that's succeeding?  Study what effect it has on students.

Active Voter
Active Voter

@itsbrokeletsfixit @Starik @speccie This takes time. It's great in theory and at first encouraged. This suppose to be the concept of meeting the students where they are and learning about their unique cultural and environmental attributes. When it's done, the administration are just ecstatic until they see ongoing scores and question why a certain percentage of students are failing. They don't realize (or don't fight) that this is a process and that the results/progress may not be seen until the end. Yet, the test samples are given throughout the year so the students won't go into shock come April. By that time, they are weary and so is the teacher. I don't think anyone considers the implications of a child writing at least 2 paragraphs or more for answers for more than 2 hours and this child is in the third grade just now experiencing his or her first standardized test. Needless to say, we are just now beginning the writing process of persuasive, informational, etc. and some are just now learning to write complete sentences and then paragraphs and let's not mention those who are still having trouble with motor skills. Let's be fair, until the parents say Enough is Enough! this will continue.

Active Voter
Active Voter

@Astropig @Starik @speccie This was actually suggested by a AFT representative at an APS board meeting sometime ago. The reasons given were like burnt out; if teachers are successful in the affluent schools then they should be successful at the other schools; resources and support are not equal at all schools; unfair representation of the performance evaluation awards, etc. I didn't see anybody running to this idea because they know the level of work, time, and stress would increase.

ElizabethWebb
ElizabethWebb

@Starik @speccie Just as individuals get to choose whether to teach, in our free society, teachers, who have not signed up for military service and have not agreed to work wherever assigned, get to choose the district where they want to teach. It is unquestionable that there are not enough quality teachers. The answer is districts valuing and supporting their teachers so that quality educators actively seek jobs in that district. 


ANyTime
ANyTime

The school I work in is similar to yours.... 95% free lunch, 80%+ ESOL. We were considered one of the lowest schools in the state under NCLB and AYP but are proving what we knew all along (we are extremely successful!) under the knew CCRPI model which acknowledges growth as an indicator of success. We have always had the most well behaved students from all around the world who grow by leaps and bounds as they gain English but research has proven that they are not going to reach grade level academic language for several years. We were thrilled once growth became a part of the expectations since we knew we had that covered. I'd put our teachers against any in the district/state once they learn how to effectively teach this student population.

Even with this population, I believe that common testing and common standards are needed to make sure that all children are given an equal opportunity to education. The one good thing I think came out of NCLB was that there was a national realization that students were being taught differently and expectations were different based solely on where students lived, level of income, etc. I am not convinced that the standards are yet aligned to age appropriate levels but that's not my expertise. I think common standards and some form of uniform assessment will benefit those who were often "left behind". It is important that we prepare every child for college or a career that will allow them to sustain themselves and their family. I don't think the culture shift is there yet, but the right ideas are in motion.

Kay Draper Hutchinson
Kay Draper Hutchinson

Yes. Yes it does. Signed, Mother of three who also has years of professional experience related to children and schools

Tom Green
Tom Green

Ha ha ha...teacher familiarity?

Jennifer Kraften
Jennifer Kraften

Short answer from an elementary teacher's view: Yes, they certainly do.