State-level change could result in fewer tests for midstate students

Students across the state could be taking fewer tests this school year after a recent Georgia Department of Education decision.

Districts will have the option to reduce the Student Learning Objective assessments from as many as six per teacher to as few as one.

“I have always believed that we test our students too much,” state Superintendent Richard Woods said in a statement Monday. “Eliminating some of the Student Learning Objectives is a step toward reducing the overall number of tests given to students, which will give our teachers more time for instruction and help our students focus on learning instead of testing.”

Because Bibb and Peach counties participated in the Race to the Top grant, teachers there will need two assessments, either through Georgia Milestones or SLO. Other Middle Georgia counties will only need one assessment per teacher.

“We announced this to a group of educators a few weeks ago, and we’ve received lots of feedback, lots of positive feedback from them,” said Matt Cardoza, a spokesman for the Department of Education.

The lower number of tests will result in more classroom time, he said.

The reduction came as good news to officials in Houston County, where students took an estimated total of 144,000 standardized tests last school year, about five per student.

“The good thing about this is it’s going to allow us to cut back on the number of standardized tests that we’re giving,” said Eric Payne, the district’s assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.

In the past, if any teacher that taught a particular subject needed the SLO for his or her own professional evaluation, every educator teaching that subject had to administer the same test. Now, each teacher will only need to administer his or her one required assessment, whether that’s an SLO or a Georgia Milestones test.

“It’s great for our teachers, but ultimately, it’s what’s best for our students,” Payne said.

Under the new arrangement, it’s entirely possible that two classes could take the same subject at the same school, with one taking the SLO and the other not. Such a situation wouldn’t be too different from the varying numbers of content tests and daily assignments between classes, Payne said.

“I think we’re better off being a little inconsistent on that,” he said.

District officials don’t have much time to decide how they’ll handle the change, with school starting in Bibb, Houston and Peach counties this coming Monday.

Houston County officials are scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss the matter, and this isn’t the first time they’ve had to talk about the SLOs. At the end of the 2014-15 school year, Houston County parents were upset about the effect that SLOs had on students when the assessments were used as a major component for final grades.

Payne is confident that whatever the decision, the district’s leaders will make sure students get the best end result.

“Hopefully, we showed that last year,” he said, pointing to the decision to throw out SLO results that lowered student grades.

Payne added that he was glad the state decided to make a switch now, even if it meant an additional decision for him and his colleagues.

“I think the state has recognized that this is not what’s best for students,” he said of the high number of tests. “They realized it, and they’re correcting the mistake.”

To contact writer Jeremy Timmerman, call 744-4331 or follow him on Twitter@MTJTimm.