Georgia school officials have adopted changes to reduce the number of year-end tests K-12 students must take, but it remains up in the air whether final assessments will be scrapped entirely this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The U.S. Department of Education has not yet approved a waiver Georgia officials submitted in June to abstain from year-end tests as the state’s roughly 2,800 public schools continue grappling with resuming classes online and in-person amid the virus.
The waiver, which federal officials must approve before tests can be canceled, drew broad support from students, parents, teachers and other Georgians who were surveyed recently on whether they back scrapping tests this year.
But without waiver approval, the state Department of Education is forced to move forward for now on planning for the tests to be administered and green-lighting certain contracts aimed at tracking student testing performance.
“We don’t know what the future holds nor can we predict what COVID-19 will look like,” State School Superintendent Richard Woods said Thursday. “Until we hear something from [federal officials], we’re moving things forward like a normal day.”
Meanwhile, members of the state Board of Education passed a resolution Thursday to eliminate four year-end tests in high school and one in the third grade from the trove of assessments required annually for third graders through seniors in Georgia.
Those changes came as part of legislation the General Assembly passed in June and Gov. Brian Kemp signed a short time later. Kemp, Woods and many school advocates backed reducing tests to help ease stress and heavy workloads for students and teachers, as well as drive down costs to prepare the tests.
Along with fewer tests, the legislation allowed state education officials to study whether some tests are redundant and if they could be eliminated, and required local school districts to compile data on how their students fared with the testing to compare performance with schools in other states.
It also required schools to administer tests within 25 days of the end of spring semester for elementary and middle school students, and on a date to be determined by the state board for high schoolers.
With many schools resuming classes this month, some board members on Thursday called on local school districts to return students back to in-person classes quickly rather than lean on virtual learning to complete courses indefinitely.
“There’s a million reasons why we need to safely get the kids back into the buildings as quickly as possible,” said board member Mike Long.
Kemp and Woods have also supported resuming in-person classes during the pandemic but have left it to local districts how to proceed.
Also on Thursday, the board approved a roughly $18.5 million grant to boost virtual programs aimed at tailoring courses to a student’s individual needs and signed off on new elective classes focused on the history and literature of the Old and New Testaments.