Georgia school superintendent blasts federal decision to resume testing during pandemic

Georgia school superintendent blasts federal decision to resume testing during pandemic
The state released results of the 2017 Georgia Milestones tests, and Cobb County saw about half its third, fifth and eighth graders on average scoring at proficient or advanced levels. (AJC File.)

ATLANTA — Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods is blasting a decision by U.S. education officials to require schools to resume standardized testing during the 20-21 school year despite the ongoing pandemic.

The federal government issued a series of waivers in the spring that allowed school systems to postpone or cancel federally-required testing. Georgia was the first state in the U.S. to apply for the waivers.

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos issued a letter to state officials saying that those waivers will not be granted again.

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The announcement means states will be required to administer “summative assessments” like the Georgia Milestone tests this school year.

In a lengthy, impassioned statement, Woods said he disagrees with the decision and argued that testing is not a valid way to measure academic achievement. He said the decision is disappointing and will hurt public education.

“Continuing to administer high-stakes tests during these unprecedented and uncertain times is, sadly, more about adults than the needs of students and teachers (and shows) total disregard for the realities faced by our families, students, and educators,” Woods wrote.

“Make no mistake – these test scores will not be used to support teaching and learning, as the proponents suggest. They will be used to undermine our public education system, understate the heroic efforts of our teachers, and undercut any opportunity we have for a full K-12 recovery.”

Woods said that though the tests are federally required, he will do everything in his power to make sure that they are not high-stakes and will not put unnecessary pressure on students and teachers. High-stakes tests are standardized tests that often take days to administer and pull students out of the classroom.

Before the pandemic began, Gov. Kemp and lawmakers from both parties announced plans to reduce the number of high-stakes tests Georgia students were required to take, arguing that they take precious time away from instruction.

Gov. Brian Kemp said at that time that Georgia tests more than any other state, and that only hurts the children.

“On test days, it’s making students physically sick because they’re worried they will not do well,” Kemp said. “And that is simply unacceptable in our state.”

Woods said that now, it’s even more important that students focus on learning.

“In a year when instructional time is so precious, why cut into it with high-stakes testing?” Wood said. “At a time when families, students, and educators have understandable anxiety about returning to a new instructional environment, why add the additional stress of high-stakes testing?”

Woods assured families that they will not have to worry about testing.

“I repeat: do not worry about the tests. Worry about meeting the students and teachers where they are. Worry about a safe and supportive restart,” Woods wrote. “Worry about the well-being of your students and teachers. Worry about doing what’s right.”

Woods said he was happy to have Gov. Kemp’s support in his decision to aggressively pursue testing waivers if they are offered again.

“Who we are will be measured not by a test score, but by how we meet this moment,” Woods said.

Fulton County Superintendent Mike Looney also blasted the decision by the U.S. Education Department and thanked Woods for standing up for students and teachers.

Georgia Association of Educators President Lisa Morgan also released a statement in support of Woods Thursday.

“The Georgia Association of Educators fully agrees with Superintendent Woods that our focus at this time should be on the needs of the students before us and not standardized tests. We applaud his statement that ‘common sense and compassion’ will continue to guide our path forward.

We expected these actions by Secretary DeVos since her public statements have indicated as such. We are disappointed that the USDOE continues to value test scores as valid and reliable indicators of the teaching and learning that occurs in our classrooms each day.

We encourage our members to focus on the students before them and meeting their social, emotional, and academic needs as we continue to move through these unprecedented times. We will continue to work to ensure that like Superintendent Woods, other policy makers will understand that ‘A child is more than a test score.’”

Request to cancel all state school testing approved