Education leaders in Cobb County say the state’s announcement that certain students will no longer have to take the Georgia Milestones End of Course tests is a win for most students but has negative implications for others and for schools as a whole.

Students in many Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses will no longer be required to take end-of-course Milestones provided those students receive a passing grade in the course, according to the Georgia Department of Education.

AP and IB courses allow high school students to take college-level courses and earn college credit before graduation.

Milestones are the state’s method of measuring how well Georgia students have mastered subjects such as language arts, mathematics, science and social studies.

Elementary and middle school students are given the tests at the end of the school year, while Georgia’s high schoolers are given end-of-course assessments in core subjects.

The policy change is part of the state’s efforts to reduce the “over-emphasis on high-stakes testing,” according to Meghan Frick, a spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Education.

The state estimates the change could eliminate about 58,000 assessments taken by students this year, based on the total enrollment of corresponding AP and IB courses taken during the 2018-19 school year (58,612).

Students will still be required to take EOC tests in ninth grade literature and composition, algebra I or coordinate algebra, and biology due to federal laws that require assessments in math, English language arts/reading, and science at least once in high school.

Cobb Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said the testing change is a win for students, parents and teachers in Cobb.

Ragsdale said students are often overwhelmed by the amount of standardized tests they have to take throughout their K-12 careers, and any steps the state takes to limit that testing is positive.

“If you reduce the amount of standardized testing, then you give teachers more time to teach,” the superintendent said, adding that there is still more work to be done to create meaningful, statewide systems of assessment.

Ragsdale added that assessing students’ progress is still important, but should be done in-house on an ongoing basis to ensure no student is left behind. The Cobb County School District is focused on developing its Cobb Teaching and Learning System — an online portal for students, teachers and parents — to implement those ongoing assessments, he said.

Ragsdale said more details on how the implementation of the changes will work in Cobb will be available within the next week. He assured parents the district will ensure the changes do not negatively impact students’ grades.

But Connie Jackson, president of the Cobb County Association of Educators, said the state’s announcement is concerning.

Jackson said the elimination of one portion of a system that unfairly judges students, teachers and schools is not enough. The state’s decision, she said, will remove the scores of the highest-scoring students from schools’ Milestones averages, hurting every school’s image, and likely causing the most damage to the lowest-performing schools in the county.

She agreed with Ragsdale — high-stakes testing and other school ratings, like the College and Career Readiness Performance Index should be eliminated — but, she added, it has to be done all at once in a full revamp of the entire assessment system.

CCRPI and standardized tests are being used to judge schools based on a formula that does not encourage collaboration and innovation, but rather punishes schools for under-performance, she said.

CCRPI is a measuring stick that the state uses to gauge the performance of Georgia’s schools on a 100-point scale. Scores are based on five components: content mastery, progress, closing gaps, readiness and, for high schools, graduation rate.

“Trying to feed us a crumb when we’ve asked for the whole meal ... is what this feels like. You can’t eliminate one (piece) of the equation without affecting everything else,” Jackson said. “It needs to be done away with totally, not just piecemeal here or there.”

Grant Rivera, superintendent of Marietta City Schools, said both Ragsdale and Jackson are correct. Students win as a result of fewer required standardized tests, but schools lose with the change, as average school scores will drop, Rivera said.

But he also noted that there is another unintended consequence that the state needs to explore.

The Georgia Department of Education allows 1% of students in each school district in the state to take the Georgia Alternate Assessment, an alternative to standardized testing for qualified students with “significant cognitive disabilities.”

The state describes the GAA as “a portfolio of student work that enables the demonstration of achievement and progress relative to selected skills that are aligned to the Georgia curriculum.” The GAA is assessed based on four criteria: English language arts, math, science, and social studies.

Rivera said the 1% cap is an accountability measure to keep districts from over-identifying GAA students.

But, he said, since the state has decided to remove a number of students from the standardized testing equation, that 1% represents a smaller number of disabled students who will be allowed to take the alternative assessment.

The Marietta district already pushes the 1% cap, and the new calculation without certain AP and IB testers would place Marietta “solidly above ... if not pushing 2% participation in GAA,” according to Michael Huneke, Marietta’s director of assessment.

What it comes down to, Rivera said, is Georgia Department of Education’s changes to EOC testing was well-intended to better serve high-achieving students. But, he said, based on current state policy, the changes also have the potential to harm school districts’ “most deserving students.”

Follow Thomas Hartwell on Twitter at twitter.com/MDJThomas.

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