ATLANTA – Georgia elementary and secondary students scored slightly lower on end-of-course tests last spring, a trend state Department of Education (DOE) officials attributed to the disruptions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

Also, fewer students took the tests than at the end of the 2018-19 school year, the last year the Georgia Milestones tests were administered.

Scores on the End of Grade tests administered to students in grades three through eight and the End of Course tests taken by high school students were affected by rolling COVID-19 quarantines, rising case counts and shifting instructional models, State School Superintendent Richard Woods said Monday.

“Georgia Milestones was designed to measure instruction during a typical school year, and 2020-21 was anything but,” he said. “Given the impacts of the pandemic on all students, we expected some decreases this year.

“With educators already working to get students back on track and the vast majority of school districts offering five days a week of in-person instruction this year, I’m confident students will receive the support they need to make up any lost ground.”

The DOE sought a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education twice during the last year to scrap the tests for the 2020-21 school year because of the pandemic but was denied. The Georgia Board of Education responded to the federal decision by approving Woods’ proposal to temporarily lower the weight the test scores counted toward students’ final grades from 20% to just .01%.

Compared to the Georgia Milestones tests administered during the 2018-19 school year, scores declined statewide by an average of six points in grades 3-8 and a range of 4 to 15 points in high school.

Statewide, the percent of enrolled students who took the tests last spring ranged from a high of 79% in third grade to a low of 55% in high school. School districts did not require students to come into the school building solely to take the test if they were uncomfortable doing so due to the pandemic.

Nearly all school districts are planning to use a formative assessment provided by the DOE to measure learning loss during the pandemic.

State and local funds have been dedicated to addressing the issue, including significant investments in instructional resources, state and regional academic recovery specialists and improvements to internet connectivity in rural and underserved areas of Georgia.