Midstate students gearing up for new Georgia Milestones test

Students in public schools across Georgia will soon take a new annual assessment known as Georgia Milestones.

The testing system is replacing both the End of Course and Criterion-Referenced Competency tests. Results are a factor in calculating a school’s College and Career Ready Performance Index score.

The tests, adopted last year by the state Department of Education, will be administered online. They are designed to provide a more realistic picture of how well students are mastering Common Core standards in the core areas of language arts, mathematics, science and social studies.

Testing periods vary by county. For the Bibb County school district, third- through eighth-graders start testing this week -- from April 16-May 1, with high school students following from May 4-22. The new system provides one consistent testing program across grades 3-12, advocates say, instead of a series of individual tests that students took before.

“The new testing system is actually going to be better for our students,” said Lynn Janes, Bibb County’s director of research, evaluation, assessment and accountability. “I believe because of the constructed response items ... they’re going to have more of an opportunity to really show what they know.”

The test is more rigorous than the CRCT and other previous assessments, Janes said.

Compared with previous tests, Milestones offers different types of questions, ranging from multiple choice and “constructed response” to extended responses and a writing element. “Science and social studies tests are still going to just be multiple choice,” Janes said. “The English and math tests are the ones that are going to have the constructed response and the extended constructed response.”

Constructed and extended response items are open-ended questions that will require students to explain how they arrived at an answer.

Other “technology enhanced” items in math, for example, will require students to shade a pie chart to represent fractions.

“It’s more real-world application of the skills,” said Melissa Fincher, a deputy superintendent of assessment and accountability for the state DOE.

Students’ test results will shed light on their learning progression and chart the next steps in their education, whether that means moving on to the next grade level, college or a career.

Some test questions will be graded from “does not meet expectations” to “meets expectations” to “exceeds expectations.” Other questions -- “norm-referenced” items -- will be graded on a comparative scale. Norm-referenced items will be used to compare Georgia’s schools to national standards and will not count against a student’s proficiency.

For its first year, the state has mandated that at least 30 percent of a school district’s students take the test online. In three years, that number will jump to 80 percent. By the fifth year, all students must test online.

“Our kids today are a lot more computer savvy than we were back then,” Janes said. “I think they’re going to be very comfortable with computer parts of the test.”

Studies show that students actually perform better when they take tests online, she said, and some schools across the state did better on CRCT online retesting in previous years.

Even with the added benefit of online testing for the young digital natives, parents are encouraged to make sure their children get plenty of sleep during the testing period and have a healthy breakfast the days of the tests.

“Ensure (students) that they’ve been taught by the teachers what they need to know, and they just need to go in and do their best,” Janes said.

Recent technology upgrades have afforded Bibb students the opportunity to begin preparing for the tests in recent months.

However, because it’s a new test, Fincher said this is considered a “hold harmless” year. This year’s scores will be used as a starting point and won’t count against schools.

“Testing is not the sum total of everything that goes on at school,” Fincher said. “We all have to work together to put testing back in its rightful place, which is supporting teaching and learning, not driving it.”

To contact writer David Schick, call 744-4382.