Georgia Milestones: Are state tests inappropriate for young students?

A parent argues the impact of Milestones scores on teachers, principals and schools contributes to its high-stakes nature.

Parent Carol Kirshner opted her third-grade daughter out of the Georgia Milestones. In this detailed essay, Kirshner explains why she feels the test is inappropriate.

(For another view, read this teacher’s piece about why opting out undermines classrooms.)

Her main point: Testing sessions for the Milestones in the early grades range from 60-90 minutes, which far exceeds what we should expect from a normal student.

As a rule, Kirshner says research suggests average students have a sustained attention span of 3-5 minutes for every year they’re alive. So, the average 9-year-old in third grade would have an attention span between 27-45 minutes. It is not until seventh grade that a child at the higher end of normal (roughly 20 percent of students considering a traditional bell curve) would have a 60 minute attention span, she says.

Kirshner is not arguing Georgia abandon state assessments. Instead, she wants the developers of the Milestones to shorten the testing session times and give adequate age-appropriate breaks, saying, “I feel this simple act would go a long way to improving the Milestones testing process and deliver more accurate data on how are schools are performing.”

By Carol Kirshner

I requested to opt-out my child out of the Georgia Milestones testing because the 60-90 minute testing session time is developmentally inappropriate for third graders.  In turn, the developmentally inappropriate testing session time significantly compromises the accuracy of the assessment.

The testing environment becomes untenable for children when one also considers the trickle-down effects of the high-stakes associated with test, including a role in determining teacher and administrator performance, repercussions with home values in the school’s neighborhood, and the potential to impact a student’s promotion to the next grade.

The high-stakes nature and the developmentally inappropriate testing session create a potentially harmful situation that has not been studied enough to determine the incidence, nature, severity, and long-term consequences of any negative behavioral, emotional, and physical health that arise from the testing environment.

Georgia Milestones Employs Developmentally Inappropriate Testing Session Times

A large number of scientific publications have noted the development of the prefrontal cortex in the brain in involved in many aspects of executive behavioral control, including attention, strategic behavioral planning and emotional impulse control, short-term information retention, and action selection (Arnsten & Rubia, 2012, McClellan et. al., 2013). Development of the prefrontal cortex persists throughout childhood, experiences a phase of neuronal pruning during adolescence, and then finally reaches maturity during early adulthood.

It is widely accepted by the scientific and medical community that attention and other executive functions are a developmental process that is, in part, based on biological development of brain structures. Specifically in regards to attention span in normal children, most medical and psychological professionals agree it is calculated by adding 3-5 minutes per year of age.  Subsequently, a typical third grade student can sustain their attention is 27-45 minutes.

Milestones Sessions Require Students to be Attentive for 60-90 Minutes, Double the Expected Levels of Normal

Furthermore, the Georgia Milestone testing times fall outside of industry standards. Milestones testing times exceeds other commonly used tests, including the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, Tennessee’s TCAP and the Smarter Balance test used by 15 states.

Milestones session times exceed those required for older students for college placement, such as those for the SAT, GRE, and even the LSAT for entry into law school. The MCAT for entry into medical school is the only test whose session testing times exceed the Georgia Milestones test.

2017 End of Grade Milestones Assessment Compared to College & Grad School Admissions Tests

*It is important to note most college assessments do not penalize a student for leaving questions blank.

The Developmentally Inappropriate Testing Session Times Make the Georgia Milestones an Inaccurate Assessment of Student Academic Achievement

Asking children to sustain their attention past normative expectations in a rigid, traditionally proctored testing environment compromises optimal test performance. Subsequently, the results of the tests cannot be assumed to be an accurate reflection of a child’s academic attainment.

Milestones testing can be compared to asking toddlers to move a 100-pound weight.  They simply have not grown enough to accomplish the task.  Furthermore, it is irrational to automatically assume toddlers are weak, damaged, or underdeveloped simply because they cannot move the 100-pound object.

Specifically, in regards to the 70-90 minute writing section, there is research indicating attention plays a huge role in successfully completing that task. In 2002, Hooper, Swartz, Wakely, de Kruif, and Montgomery argued attentional control plays a significant role in executive processes that coordinate strategic writing — planning, monitoring, and revising of writing.  Specifically in the case of writing portion of the test, we can use the findings of Hooper and colleagues to logically infer because the attentional requirement is double what we can expect from a normal third grader, the testing session time would negatively impact performance and deliver an inaccurate assessment of student academic attainment.

The High-Stakes Nature of the Test May Increase the Risk of Harm to Students

Despite the platitudes offered to teachers, administrators, parents, and students to subordinate the importance of the Milestones test, everyone knows the Milestones is a high-stakes test.

Teacher performance is partly assessed based on student performance on the test. Additionally, administrators are judged on their school’s College and Career Ready Performance Index. Furthermore, many parents seek homes in areas with schools that have high CCRPI, as it is a key influencer in home value. Finally, parents, teachers, and administrators understand the Milestones results play a role in the promotion status of students. With these facts in mind, Milestones are high-stakes tests that clearly impact most of the adults in a child’s life.

Many teachers and administrators are aware of the potential negative emotional impact of high-stakes tests on students. Subsequently, they try to minimize anxiety, apprehensions, and fear through verbal discussions and encouraging, hopeful statements. However, there are a number of behaviors that are incongruent to verbal efforts to diffuse negative, fearful emotions.

They are:

•Repeated practice sessions in the classroom setting

•Months of verbally drawing attention to efforts to teach toward the test. “You will see this sort of thing on the Milestones.”

•Subtle and sometimes overt statements that indicate a child will not be able to progress to the next grade if he or she does not do well on the Milestones test.

•Children thrive with consistency, while incongruities often cause anxiety. To assume children are immune and unaware of the incongruities is ridiculous. Children may not be able to express what they are feeling and why they feel it, but we should not assume that it is not having a negative emotional effect on children. To them it is as simple as “If it does not matter, then why are we talking about it?”

I recognize not all stress and anxiety is harmful. However, mostly due to Georgia ignoring the idea that there may be any negative emotional impacts associated with the Milestones, there is insufficient data and research available on the topic to ensure that the test will not be harmful to my child. As a parent and child advocate, I wonder if the sustained and unrelenting focus on the Milestones test combined with the developmental inappropriateness of the testing environment places children in a position to perform poorly and creates excessive stress and anxiety in some students.

There are anecdotal reports of pre-test insomnia, student preoccupation with test performance, anxiety, stomach aches, nausea, vomiting, and crying. Furthermore, it is not unusual for students to cry during testing sessions. To me, these are big red flags that need to be investigated. Specifically, the state needs to track and research the incidence, nature, and severity of the stress associated with the tests. Additionally, they need to investigate and identify who is at risk for toxic, harmful stress levels.

Finally, for me to be assured the test will not cause harm to my child, the state should gather data that can help us understand the long-term consequences of sustained and toxic stress related to Milestones testing.

However, we can draw some conclusions from the ample research that elucidates the impact of harmful and toxic stress on the minds and bodies developing children. Negative consequences of stress in children include: impaired behavioral and emotional development, behavioral impulsivity, social isolation, impaired brain development, poor self-esteem, depression, and persistent situational anxiety. Furthermore, childhood stress can contribute to a number of health consequences later in life, including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes. As such, it is unethical to place children at possible risk without having any mechanism in place to assess for and intervene in potentially harmful situations.

It is my fear as a parent the combination of the high-stakes nature of the test and the inappropriate testing environment will create significant sustained emotional distress and could possibly lead to persistent test-anxiety. Given these tests will be required for the duration of our children’s public school careers, testing may also have possible negative health and developmental implications. I find it unethical and potentially cruel the state of Georgia lacks a set of fail-safes to monitor for and ensure the safety of my child and other students.

In conclusion, I agree with the U.S. Department of Education’s position that appropriate testing is a powerful tool in education that can be used to assess progress in learning and ensure the fulfillment of high educational standards (U.S. Department of Education, 2015).

Unfortunately, the Georgia Milestones Assessment System is administered in a developmentally inappropriate format for third-grade students. This compromises the ability of the tests to generate results that are an accurate assessment of student academic achievement.

Furthermore, there is insufficient information and data available to determine the tests are safe and do not produce harmful long-term effects through the induction of stress and anxiety.

 

Reader Comments 0

56 comments
Wascatlady
Wascatlady

ABSOLUTELY!  In addition, having lengthy reading passages where students have to flip back and forth (in paper form) or up and down(on computer) as 8 year olds is entirely inappropriate.


The 3rd grade math portion expects students to make complex associations and processes to solve the problems.


The timing, as she noted, is insane for the younger kids.


A big, fat FAIL for the state DOE and those who are responsible for this test!  How about let's hold THEM accountable!

Kay Yates
Kay Yates

The primary benefit of these tests is to the bottom line of the publisher.

class80olddog
class80olddog

If Milestones tests are used to determine if a student is promoted to the next grade, and a parent opts them out - how does the school promote them? (answer - they DON'T use these tests to promote - they pass EVERYONE, whether they are ready or not) 

class80olddog
class80olddog

If the tests are not proper, then they should be changed.  Or just go to ITBS (can't do that - it might show what is really happening). We are testing because teachers have shown that they regularly CHEAT and give grades that are not indicative of the level of mastery of a subject.  Milestones tests SHOULD be used to determine if a student has mastered the subject matter and should be promoted to the next grade.  If the test is too long, cut it in half and give half on one day and half on another.  Anxiety over high-stakes testing is because teachers don't think that their students have actually learned much - especially if the student has been absent for a lot of the school year.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@class80olddog Teachers don't "cheat;" they are literally REQUIRED to use certain ways of calculating grades OR ELSE.


As to your point about cutting the test in half, some systems have done this.  The PROBLEM is the PASSAGES are too long, developmentally speaking, and result in exhausted children giving up and stabbing at it, rather than fencing with it (and winning.)

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Wascatlady @class80olddog  If someone puts a gun to your head and makes you shoot and kill someone else (like maybe the Nazis?), you are still responsible for killing.  You could have refused and been killed yourself (and hopefully they would have reaped justice).  The APS teachers probably knew if they didn't erase, their jobs would be "erased".  So they cheated.


Susan Blount Campbell
Susan Blount Campbell

Thankfully, more and more parents are understanding the importance of refusing the Milestones. Push for better and fewer tests!

Annie
Annie

Agree on all points.  The winners of testing are the vendors of both assessments and technology.  Students and teachers are the victims.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Annie  The students and teachers are "victims" only in the sense that these tests SHOW that these students have not mastered the required learning for that grade level (for whatever reason).

Falcaints
Falcaints

The goal of the EOC tests is to grade the "teacher" not the student. Some feel it necessary to blame a child's lack of academic progress on the teacher alone. We have shifted responsibility for most of societies ills onto the teachers.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Falcaints  They NEED to use the results of the testing to grade the ADMINISTRATORS, not the teachers.  It is the ADMINISTRATORS who usually make teachers promote unqualified students to the next level.  It is ADMINISTRATORS who refuse to punish truancy laws.  It is usually ADMINISTRATORS who will not back up teachers when they punish disciplinary issues. Of course, ADMINISTRATORS CHEAT by underreporting absenteeism and discipline and by forcing teachers to change grades to passing.

peanutgallery
peanutgallery

I wonder how your child is going to do when he/she has to go out into the real world minus the training wheels.

Annie
Annie

@peanutgallery  The child/ adult will SHOW what they can do in the workplace and college.  Not simply answer questions on a computer-based assessment.

peanutgallery
peanutgallery

LOL. College is filled with high-stress tests/papers. 3-4 tests usually determine your grade for a class.

As for the workplace you are judged by your productivity and results.

If you can't handle taking a multiple choice exam then you need to develop some intestinal fortitude.

peanutgallery
peanutgallery

I never said standardized testing improves student academics.

So why test? Because grade inflation is rampant and some public schools are at risk of turning into diploma mills. The ATL public school system scandal is a real-life example.

As for private schools do you think elite schools like Westminster need such basic tests? They all take the SAT/ACT in high school and blow away the scores of the average GA student.

I can't speak for private schools that are not any better than the public system. It makes no sense to me why a parent would waste their money like that.

time for reform
time for reform

@MaureenDowney @Annie @peanutgallery 

Funny how the anti-testing crowd never seems to have a problem with the SAT or ACT tests. 

Just those "high-stakes" tests which give parents a direct heads-up on the quality of their neighborhood schools.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Annie @peanutgallery  Yes, and some will be hired based on their "diploma" then fired when it is evident they have not learned anything.  If you catch that AND address it in school (by retaining), they have a better chance of REAL learning.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@Annie @peanutgallery I also have to note most private schools don't do these levels of high-stakes testing, and their grads don't seem impaired. Not sure I am ready to dump state assessments, but I don't think we can show this testing regimen has led to higher performance or greater success later in life.

Jackson
Jackson

Does this mean SAT should not be used it is 4 hours? Under this math it is almost 2 times longer than what students should be taking?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  .........As a rule, Kirshner says research suggests average students have a sustained attention span of 3-5 minutes for every year they’re alive. So, the average 9-year-old in third grade would have an attention span between 27-45 minutes. It is not until seventh grade that a child at the higher end of normal (roughly 20 percent of students considering a traditional bell curve) would have a 60 minute attention span, she says............

Jamie Youngblood Campbell
Jamie Youngblood Campbell

When a child's whole education is centered around these tests, we have lost the purpose of the child's education.

Joe Seidel
Joe Seidel

More testing= less learning. Less testing= more learning. It's a scientific fact, proven years ago so why do we still test, test test? I would say that it's because the test makers are in the pockets of legislators who know absolutely nothing about education.

kaelyn
kaelyn

My kids are finished with Milestone testing, but when they did take it, it took FOREVER to get the results. The schools pretty much brainwash the students into thinking the test is more important than oxygen, but they can't be bothered to share the results with parents.

The ITBS must be more expensive to administer than Milestones. If that isn't the case, Georgia is mighty dumb. What else explains the constantly changing assessments? I've never heard anyone complain about the ITBS. It's a reputable nationally normed test that's been around for decades. Yet, every three to four years Georgia feels the needs to reinvent the wheel. What we always end up with is a flat tire.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@kaelyn  ITBS would likely show that in failing schools the vast majority of students are 2-3 years behind their grade level.  Can't have that truth being disclosed.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@kaelyn The constantly changing assessments employ many people. If you stick with one old tried and true one, not so much employment and job justification at the state level.

Starik
Starik

@Wascatlady @kaelyn Georgia wants its own test because we can't compete with states with good public education. Keeping Georgians ignorant is the goal.

Nancy Morgan
Nancy Morgan

I neither agree nor disagree but my 3rd grader said he loved it and was super excited that there were more this week.

Mary Ingram Finney
Mary Ingram Finney

Ask your child about bathroom breaks (how many? Did anyone wet their pants? How about restricted bathroom breaks?) Ask where chairs were, if any, in the classrooms. Ask about what time your child eats lunch. How about were there any computer issues when testing? Now ask about what kind of real test results you get? Does it help with instruction for the teacher to help work with your child? When does the results get back? Were you or your child told he/she will not be promoted if the test is failed? Once you start asking more questions & digging into what goes on behind the scenes (to include stressed-out-to-the-max teachers), you may want to rethink GAMAS.

Melannie Dillard Williams
Melannie Dillard Williams

The test is ridiculous. Would be nice to hear the media report on it and take up for the children subjected to it.

Tom Green
Tom Green

Parallel to the article's argument on age inappropriateness, college students are tested over 8 weeks of material for mid-terms and maybe 15.5 weeks for finals; however, we expect elementary/middle/high school students to be able to retain the material for approximately 34 weeks.

Susan Blount Campbell
Susan Blount Campbell

Nearly everything about this test is inappropriate. It's too long, it doesn't tell anyone anything worth knowing, it's too expensive, no parent or teacher ever gets to see the test or the answers, the stakes are too high, it's inappropriately used to grade teachers (which it was never designed to do), and it's not age-appropriate, most especially for the younger students, and it's online when studies show that children perform better with pencil and paper. Also, many younger children are not proficient keyboardists but gave to compose essays and do math with a device.

Tom Green
Tom Green

In the end, I suspect the test was/is designed to generate revenue for campaign donors. Since it has gone digital, the profit margins have to be much greater.

Steven Wilkie
Steven Wilkie

The state tests are inappropriate for older students too - remember, the state of Georgia has "moved the goalposts" to the point where it is nearly impossible for students to achieve the goals they set - also remember that this test isn't really meant to gauge student achievement, but teacher ability to teach to those unattainable goals. The more students, and consequently schools and teachers, that fail... the more fodder for the "Govenuh" has for charter school takeover...

Tom Green
Tom Green

Things will never change until the parents take a stand.

Amy Noel Sery
Amy Noel Sery

It's also ridiculous that some students with EIPs, IEPs, or 504 plans (students with disabilities) are required to sit through the test with time and a half or double time. They should just be done when they are done... if it's 20 minutes or 105 minutes.

Alt AJC
Alt AJC

All such articles are designed to undermine the legitimacy of testing and accountability, no matter how much they may claim otherwise. The teachers' unions and their sympathizers crank them out endlessly. 

While fighting against charter schools and parental choice.


Christie_S
Christie_S

How about responding to the substance of the essay instead of spouting your flat-earth conspiracy theories.

Alt AJC
Alt AJC

@Christie_S 

School choice would give you the ability to send your own child to a school with unionized teachers and less accountability. If that's what you think you want.

Annie
Annie

@Alt AJC  Charter schools take these assessments also.  The points made apply to charter schools and any school of parental choice in Georgia.  Under the new ESSA guidelines, many states are changing from the type of assessments of which Georgia Milestones is.

Lisa Fern Mozer
Lisa Fern Mozer

The expense should also concern us as a community Teachers are also stressed in the facilitation of state assessments

Jessica Whitehead
Jessica Whitehead

Yesssss as well as administrators because scores are the biggest part of ccrpi. Despite the fact that they didnt count last year towards students or teachers because of the vendors mistake with internet connectivity, they still counted it against US in terms of ccrpi. My school was only .7 points away from making the 60. I really wonder if testing had gone more smoothly if we would have actually made it. And thats where the unfairness comes in because now we will be punished for something that is not technically our faults. But I guess the higher ups at the GADOE need to justify their jobs so.....

Jenna Milam Baird
Jenna Milam Baird

There were Internet outages across counties on Friday, due to the ATT data lines out. More Internet interruptions today also. How much have we spent on this test?