Georgia’s top school official aims to make year-end standardized tests count “essentially zero” toward students’ final grades in the 2020-21 school year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

State School Superintendent Richard Woods is also poised to recommend waiving performance consequences for teachers tied to the annual Georgia Milestones exams and let local schools decide when to administer the year-end tests.

The proposed changes follow the refusal earlier this month by federal education officials to grant Georgia a waiver to scrap standardized tests this year during the pandemic.

Woods immediately pledged to water down the tests in defiance and urged that students and teachers “not worry about the tests.”

Next week, Woods plans to recommend the state Board of Education approve lowering the 20% course grade weight that the tests normally carry to 0.01% — or “essentially zero” since state law prevents the tests’ weight from being 0%, according to a news release from the state Department of Education.

“Georgia will abide by federal law, but we are not going to layer additional stress and burden onto our students and teachers during this time,” Woods said in a statement. “In this environment, these tests are not valid or reliable measures of academic progress or achievement, and we are taking all possible steps at the state level to reduce their high-stakes impact.”

The board’s next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 1.

In a letter sent Sept. 3, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told Georgia school officials they “should not anticipate” receiving approval to scrap the annual assessments this year, citing the need to maintain performance standards and data-tracking for student achievement.

Georgia officials submitted the testing waiver request in June to abstain from year-end tests as the state’s roughly 2,800 public schools grapple with resuming classes online and in-person amid the virus. The waiver request drew broad support from students, parents, teachers and other Georgians who were recently surveyed.

On Thursday, Woods reiterated his strong opposition to DeVos’ decision on the testing waiver.

“I remain disappointed and disheartened by the federal directive to administer high-stakes tests in a pandemic,” Woods said.

The Georgia Association of Educators backed Woods’ move to reduce testing grade weights and urged Gov. Brian Kemp to sign an executive order allowing education officials to relax the performance consequences for teachers tied to the tests.

“This action would not eliminate accountability for teachers and administrators, but rather promote shared accountability and mutual support amongst educators, families and the community to ensure students emerge from this crisis physically, socially, emotionally and academically healthy,” said the association’s president, Lisa Morgan.

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