Parents and educators in Georgia have been calling for a decreased focus on standardized testing, and a bill proposed in the state Senate Thursday would do just that.
Senate Bill 364, authored by Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta, and others, would reduce the number of tests that Georgia students take from 32 to 24. It would also decrease the role of test results in teacher and administrator evaluations.
"The goal is to raise the efficiency and effectiveness of education in the state of Georgia," Tippins said.
The bill has the backing of state school Superintendent Richard Woods.
"I wholeheartedly support Senator Lindsey Tippins' bill, SB 364, because it reflects many of the issues I've felt all along are burdensome to student learning and the recruitment and retention of our best teachers," Woods wrote in an email Thursday.
The bill also drew the approval of Michelle Gowan, who taught for 30 years in Bibb County elementary schools before taking a role as curriculum director at the Academy for Classical Education. She lauded the proposal as a return to "common sense" and said that while educators see the value in testing as a tool, assessments have become overemphasized.
"What we have done is swing the pendulum so far that we do more testing than instructing, it seems," Gowan said.
Under the current system, students take Georgia Milestones assessments in all core content areas from the third grade on. If Tippins' bill passes, it would eliminate science and social studies exams in the third, fourth, sixth and seventh grades while adding a different form of reading and math assessment for younger students.
Also, the weight of student test scores would be reduced from 50 percent to 30 percent in teacher evaluations.
"This would allow the evaluation system to become more of a coaching tool instead of a 'gotcha' tool," Woods wrote. "We conducted a survey of more than 53,000 Georgia teachers, and an overwhelming percentage selected 'number of state-mandated tests' and the 'method for evaluating teachers' as the main reasons why 44 percent of newly hired teachers leave the profession within five years."
Specifically, the move would allow teachers to focus their energy more on the yearlong education of students than the "snapshot" of testing day, said Tony Jones, director of research, evaluation, assessment and accountability for Bibb County schools.
"It eliminates the pressure of a single event," Jones said.
For Gowan, a decreased emphasis on testing would allow for more individualized evaluations that take a variety of factors into account. The bill allows for tiered observation systems in which younger, inexperienced teachers might be observed more frequently than a veteran educator.
"The way a teacher performs should be observed, not quantified," Gowan said.
Further, the bill would require students to be in class for 80 percent of a school year's class days to count toward a teacher's evaluation, instead of the current 65 percent. The lower percentage can "tie a teacher's hands" if a student isn't in the classroom to learn the material that will be tested later, Jones said.
"Students don't learn if they're not in school. That's the bottom line," he said.
Jones noted the importance of testing as a measure for student growth that can shape future instruction. He said the proposed changes would lead to more "purposeful tests" that could, in turn, provide more useful and meaningful data while relieving the burden of educators.
"We want to be able to measure that our students have learned the material and have actually grown," he said.
The Georgia legislative session is expected to run through late March. Tippins, chairman of the Education and Youth Committee that will hear the bill first, said he expected that a hearing will be scheduled for next Wednesday or Thursday.
He also said he expected there would be minor changes to clear up language in the bill.
"While we're getting away from a cumbersome design, we don't need to swap it for another cumbersome design," he said.
And while he can't guarantee the success of any bill in the process of becoming law, Tippins said he could guarantee the intent of the measure.
"This bill reflects my best efforts to try to further the interests of education," he said.
To contact writer Jeremy Timmerman, call 744-4331 or find him on Twitternote>.