Georgia House approves plan to cut state standardized tests

State school Superintendent Richard Woods speaks at a news conference where Gov. Brian Kemp announced legislation to cut five mandatory standardized tests for Georgia public school students, including four in high school, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020 in Atlanta. The Republican officials are also trying to cut the length of state tests and evaluate local tests that Georgia's 181 school districts give to evaluate student progress.

Georgia students may get another pass on standardized tests next school year after year-end testing was scrapped this spring amid the coronavirus pandemic.

School officials and Gov. Brian Kemp announced Thursday they plan to seek a waiver from the federal government to allow local public schools not to administer the Georgia Milestones tests for the 2020-21 school year.

Kemp and State School Superintendent Richard Woods also aim to suspend annual teacher evaluations for the upcoming school year, according to a news release Thursday morning.

Resuming the oft-dreaded tests would both complicate classroom learning already challenged by social distancing restrictions and hurt the budgetary bottom-line for local schools, said a joint statement by Kemp and Woods.

“In anticipation of a return to in-person instruction this fall, we believe schools’ focus should be on remediation, growth and the safety of students,” reads the statement. “Every dollar spent on high-stakes testing would be a dollar taken away from the classroom.”

The move to do away with testing comes after Georgia received federal approval in late March allowing more than 2,200 public and state schools to be exempted from 18 requirements under state law.

Those exemptions included the Milestones test and other student exams, teacher performance evaluations and course curriculum for the coronavirus-impacted 2019-2020 school year.

School districts across Georgia totaling around 1.7 million students shut down in-person classroom activities in March as concerns mounted over coronavirus. They remained closed throughout the semester as students and teachers pivoted to online classes.

Local school officials were handed guidelines earlier this month on how to safely reopen classes for the upcoming school year, with plans outlining steps schools should take to prevent the highly infectious virus from entering classroom environments and to curb its spread if an outbreak occurs.

The bid by Kemp and Woods to suspend testing for a second school year in a row also comes as legislation works its way through the General Assembly to permanently scrap several standardized tests in Georgia.

Senate Bill 367, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman P.K. Martin, R-Lawrenceville, would get rid of five year-end tests including exams in American literature, geometry, physical science and economics.

It passed out of the state Senate in March but is poised for changes in a House committee as the legislative session speeds toward its conclusion.

The bill has drawn support from local teachers’ associations but skepticism from some state lawmakers concerned that less testing could inspire students to slack off.

On Thursday, Kemp and Woods said their request for another federal waiver from testing is in step with their push to ease stress for teachers and students by reducing tests.

“These efforts are in line with our longstanding shared belief that assessment has a place and a purpose in education, but the current high-stakes testing regime is excessive,” their statement read.

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