Georgia school chief: `Don't worry' if feds force testing

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia's students are likely to have to take state standardized tests this spring, even though state schools Superintendent Richard Woods and Gov. Brian Kemp don't want them to, citing the continuing disruption of the coronavirus pandemic.

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It's less clear, though, if the tests will fill their traditional role of being used to grade schools and evaluate teachers, with Woods pledging action in coming weeks to “take the high-stakes power of the tests away" part of his continuing attack on the testing and accountability system that fellow Republicans who preceded him helped create.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, in a letter to state school leaders, all but rejected requests by Georgia and others who sought a second year of relief from federal testing mandates. Tests were waived for all 50 states after the pandemic shuttered schools last spring.

“It is now our expectation that states will, in the interest of students, administer summative assessments during the 2020-2021 school year, consistent with the requirements of the law and following the guidance of local health officials,” DeVos wrote. “As a result, you should not anticipate such waivers being granted again,” underlining not.

Woods, an elected Republican, released a lengthy statement, saying DeVos' decision “is disappointing, shows a complete disconnect with the realities of the classroom, and will be a detriment to public education.”

He said Georgia will administer testing as required by law if the federal government mandates it, but struck a defiant tone, telling parents and teachers: “Don’t worry about the tests. Given the unique environment we are in, they are neither valid nor reliable measures of academic progress or achievement.”

Woods said he would take action “to take the high-stakes power of the tests away.” Right now, the tests are a key ingredient in a numerical performance index that is used to assign grades to schools and are also used to evaluate teachers.

DeVos could choose to let Georgia change its accountability system, as it is approved separately from the tests themselves. However, most of Georgia’s system is enshrined in state law, meaning Woods would need legislative approval to scrap it.

The federal government requires testing in math and English/language arts in grades 3-8, as well as for high school students to take at least one test in math, science and English/language arts. Georgia further requires a test in U.S. history in high school and an eighth-grade test in Georgia history.

Following a new law this year, the state Board of Education last month dropped high school tests in economics, geometry, physical science and ninth grade literature and composition, plus a fifth-grade social studies test.

Some teacher groups decried DeVos' move, saying they support Woods' stance.

"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,'" said Lisa Morgan, president of the Georgia Association of Educators, the state affiliate of the National Education Association.

But some advocates have called for testing to continue, saying that it's important to have a yardstick of performance.

“Parents deserve it, teachers could use it,” said Michael O'Sullivan of GeorgiaCAN, an education advocacy group that supports accountability. “We all need to know where kids are.”