With spring break a distant memory, schools have moved on to the season’s next important chapter: the Georgia Milestones.
Some area schools started testing Monday, while others won’t begin until later this month.
Statewide, students in grades three through 12 are required to take the assessments, and there’s more on the line this year as scores factor into grade-level promotion. Milestones results also contribute to the College and Career Readiness Performance Index scores of schools and districts.
“Everyone is graded, from the student to the school to the school district, based on these scores,” said Tony Jones, the Bibb County school system’s director of research, evaluation, assessment and accountability. “I think that every child and every parent needs to take it seriously. Their child needs to be in school to take the test. ... They need to get a good night’s sleep, they need to eat breakfast, and they need to come prepared to do the very best that they can.”
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High school students take end-of-course assessments in ninth-grade English, American literature, algebra, geometry, physical science, biology, U.S. history and economics. Their scores count for 20 percent of their final course grades.
Fifth- and eighth-graders are tested on math, science, social studies and English, and students in third, fourth, sixth and seventh grades take just math and English assessments.
Besides the district requirements, third-grade students must score at or above grade level on the Milestone’s reading portion to move on to fourth grade. Fifth- and eighth-graders have to rank on or above grade level in reading and math to advance.
This is the first year that the requirements will be enforced for grade-level promotion, Jones said. Last year, the state waived them after some districts encountered technical issues, although Bibb and Houston didn’t have any problems, officials said. The advancement rule was not used for the Milestones’ first year in 2014-15, said Matt Cardoza, the state Department of Education’s chief communications officer.
“(The Milestones) tells us how we have done in preparing students,” Jones said. “We can go back and look at student scores from last year and compare those to see what kind of growth students have had. It’s really important for us so we can plan proper remediation for students and also proper advancement.”
The tests are spread out, so that each grade level’s tests are given at the same time across the district. Third-, fifth- and eighth-graders who fail go through remediation and then retest, said Eric Payne, Houston assistant superintendent of teaching and learning.
In Bibb, elementary and middle grades started testing Monday and will finish April 25, and retest dates are May 18-25, Jones said. Payne said Houston third- through eighth-grades also began Monday and wrap up April 28, with retesting scheduled for May 16-19.
High school end-of-course tests for both districts run from April 24-May 12. Students have the option to retake assessments over the summer if they score below a 70, said Chuck Dumas, Houston’s coordinator for assessment.
“Not only can we see on the whole where we need to strengthen instruction, we can see down to individual students and see where we can help (them) as they move on to the next grade level and continue to grow,” he said.
About 70 percent of Bibb students took the tests on the computer last year, and everyone will this time around, Jones said. All subjects but American literature will be tested electronically in Houston County this year, Dumas said. Paper tests can still be given to special needs students.
The school systems have a number of rules in place to ensure proper test-taking practices are in place. For example, an examiner and proctor are in every Bibb class during testing, Jones said. In addition, a central office staff member monitors each school and helps troubleshoot if issues arise.
Testing and procedural training is provided to Houston staff throughout the year, Dumas said. System officials and school administrators keep a close eye on classrooms to make sure every protocol is being followed during the Milestones, Payne said.
The state may flag schools if a lot of students went back and changed their answers before submitting tests. Last year, three schools in Bibb County were tagged, but no foul play was found after protocols were checked. Students were just following good test-taking strategies, Jones said, and doing a thorough job proofing their work.