Standardized testing can be hard for both teachers and students.
Since testing is usually conducted toward the end of the year, students can find themselves ready to be done with the school year — and so can the teachers. Because of this, Floyd County school teachers found relief in 2018 when Georgia passed Senate Bill 362, allowing Floyd and nine other Georgia school districts to partner with the Northwest Evaluation Association to launch a five year pilot program to offer alternative standardized tests for students. These tests will be known as the GMAP tests, and they will be developed by NWEA.
Floyd County was one of the first districts to join the pilot group. The school district already administers a MAP Growth test, where students are tested on their cumulative academic growth three times a year. The difference between the MAP Growth tests and the GMAP growth tests is that the GMAP will have to meet specific state standards to count as an official standardized test. The GMAP test that the county is piloting will be similar to the MAP tests, according to Floyd County Superintendent Jeff Wilson.
Wilson said the MAP tests give a more accurate, real time depiction of growth than the Georgia Milestones since the tests only take 50 minutes, lessening the likelihood that students will feel the results of cognitive fatigue. If Floyd County is able to make the GMAP an alternative to the Georgia Milestones, he thinks it will take the pressure off students and teachers.
“It’s a lot of testing,” Wilson said of the current standardized test system. Currently, standardized testing can take a few days for some grade levels because of writing components. Usually, students test for an entire school day.
Wilson has long been an advocate for the MAP Growth tests. When he started his new position as the Floyd County Superintendent in 2018, he implemented MAP Growth immediately.
“You don’t just come in a system and start making a bunch of changes,” Wilson said. “But when I got here, I said ‘Y’all are gonna take this new test.’ It was bad. People didn’t want to do it.”
The MAP tests are different online standardized tests that take significantly less time. The tests are given three times a year: once in the fall, once in winter, and once in the spring. If approved, the GMAP tests will follow the same system.
Teachers can often find themselves stressed out about long End of Course tests since it also measures their performance as teachers. The high stakes tests, which first began under the No Child Left Behind Act, brought new accountability to schools, but not in the most productive ways, sometimes. In 2011, the pressure was on so much for the CRCT, that teachers in the Atlanta Public School system faced criminal charges for cheating on the test by changing students’ answers.
The MAP Growth test is also unique in a way that each student takes a different test based on the child’s performance during the exam. For each student, testing automatically begins at their grade level. If that student starts getting all of the question correct on their respective grade level, the test customizes itself to move to the next grade level.
Right now, Wilson says he is happy with the results that he’s seen from the district for the MAP test. He also reports that teachers are more satisfied with it.
The U.S. Department of Education will have to approve the test once the five-year pilot program for GMAP is complete. While Wilson is excited about the possibility of the test, he’s concerned about money.
“Can the state afford this model? Is it more expensive?” he said, “Right now, the taxpayers are paying for it.”
Wilson isn’t too concerned about the possibility of not being approved since Gov. Brian Kemp has been energetic about the change from Milestones to the GMAP Growth tests.
“This is the first time that I can ever remember the governor, the office, governor’s office of student achievement and the Department of Education (being on the same page),” he said. “If we keep the current mood we have going, everything should be great.”
Kemp has said he hopes the approval of the GMAP test will de-emphasize the results of scores like the CCRPI.
Students will still have to take a social studies milestone exam, whether the test is approved federally or not since NWEA does not develop a social studies MAP test.