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GA Milestones and Getting Students Back on Track

by Dr. Lisa Herring

APS students and families, I want to share with you the results of Georgia’s 2020-2021 standardized testing (which were released this morning) while stressing the importance of context. 

I’m sending a separate message to our teachers, administrators, and staff outlining the same details, but I want to provide a message specifically to our families. Why? Because I know it is helpful to get a plain explanation about what these numbers mean, and how to consider them within the context of pandemic-related challenges. 

If you have a student in Atlanta Public Schools, then you already know about End-of-Grade (EOG) and End-of-Course (EOC) testing that happens annually. It is a statewide effort and follows federal requirements. Depending on your student’s grade level and coursework, they may or may not have to take certain tests in the spring of certain years.

As usual, the numbers from last spring’s testing were just released. This is where the “as usual” ends, however. 

Because of pandemic challenges brought to our doorstep last school year, we are encouraging parents and families to contextualize when consuming results about your student or your school. We are also advising you to be wary of comparing year-to-year numbers. (These tests were meant to measure a typical learning environment, and the number of test takers this past spring was drastically lower than in a typical year. Participation data was included with this year’s data release, so you can take that into consideration.) 

Here are some key pieces of information and takeaways, boiled down for you. 

Where to Find the Data Details

What APS Already Knew

  • Learning disruptions were varied and persistent last school year.
  • These disruptions created a steep decline in participation for state testing.
  • From the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, APS must address learning loss, have a plan in place, and provide students with all the supports they need for academic recovery (as well as social/emotional and mental health).

APS Participation Numbers

  • 34% of students in grades 3-8 took the Milestones End-of-Grade assessments.  Of those tested, 36% scored proficient or above in ELA and 28% scored proficient or above in Math.
  • Less than 20% of students enrolled in High School courses requiring an End-of-Course assessment took the test.  

APS is Getting Students Back on Track

  • We have developed and implemented the APS Academic Recovery Plan. It is a three-year plan, and it has three parts:
    • A new K-12 Universal Screener to identify academic challenges and opportunities
    • The Summer Academic Recovery Academy (ARA) to mitigate learning loss and achievement gaps
    • Required school-based intervention blocks, classes, or courses (enrichment/acceleration) at all schools

Effects for Students and Educators

  • We were able to waive promotion/retention consequences tied to Georgia Milestones for the 2020-2021 school year.
  • The state temporarily lowered the EOC course grade weight to .01%.
  • There won’t be a College & Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) in 2021.
  • Teacher and leader evaluations will not be impacted by the 2020-2021 data.
  • Schools will not be newly identified for Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) or Targeted Support and Improvement (TSI) this year.

The most important point I’ve gleaned from this data is that in-person instruction is directly tied to student achievement. That’s why we are hopeful about preserving in-person instruction by following stringent health and safety protocols, and encouraging vaccination. I ask for your continued support in this effort.

Below is our official statement regarding the data released today. 

Thanks for taking the time to read this and carefully consider the state’s assessment results! Have a great week, and please be safe. 

Monday, August 16 – Georgia Milestones test scores were released today for Atlanta Public Schools and for the state. These scores should be interpreted in context due to the COVID-19 pandemic and differences in participation.

The Georgia Department of Education is encouraging educators, parents, and communities to remember that the Georgia Milestones tests were designed to measure the performance of students in a typical educational environment, so results should be interpreted in the context of the pandemic and associated learning disruptions, along with varying access to instruction. The scores were released along with participation data, since some students did not participate in testing last year due to the pandemic.

Scores from APS show:

  • 34% of students in grades 3-8 took the Milestones End-of-Grade assessments.  Of those tested, 36% scored proficient or above in ELA and 28% scored proficient or above in Math.
  • Less than 20% of students enrolled in High School courses requiring an End-of-Course assessment took the test.  

Overall, less than 35% of eligible students participated in Georgia Milestones testing during the 2020-21 school year. This was largely due to conditions created by the pandemic and testing flexibility granted by the Georgia Department of Education. Guidance issued by State School Superintendent Richard Woods made clear, in line with federal guidance, that school districts should not require virtual students to come into the building solely for the purpose of taking Georgia Milestones if they were uncomfortable doing so due to the pandemic, and should ensure parents understood this option was available to them. 

“Georgia Milestones was designed to measure instruction during a typical school year, and 2020-2021 was anything but,” State School Superintendent Richard Woods said. “Rolling quarantines, rising case counts, and shifting instructional models impacted the educational experience for students throughout the state. Given all this – along with statewide differences in participation – we expected some decreases this year. Georgia educators and students have worked extremely hard and these results do not reflect or diminish their efforts. 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.”

In response to this academic learning loss and in alignment with the district’s commitment to ensuring every child is prepared for college, career, and life, APS has developed an Academic Recovery Plan that spans the next three school years: 2021-2022, 2022-2023, and 2023-2024 (effectively June 2021 – May 2024).  APS’ Academic Recovery Plan includes three components: Adoption and implementation of a new K-12 Universal Screener, Implementation of a Summer Academic Recovery Academy (ARA) and Implementation of a required school-based intervention blocks, classes, or courses (enrichment/acceleration) at all schools.

Students take Georgia Milestones End of Grade (EOG) tests in grades three through eight, and End of Course (EOC) tests in identified high school courses. The Georgia Milestones assessment system meets the federal requirement that states test students in math and ELA in grades 3-8 and once in high school, and in science once per grade band (3-5, 6-8, 9-12).

 When considering summary scores, stakeholders are encouraged to:

1. Consider the percentage of the total population tested and take extra caution in interpretation in cases where a low percentage of the enrolled student population was tested at a given school or district.

2. Consider the representativeness and prior achievement of the tested population and take extra caution in interpretation in cases where differences indicate the students who did test this year are not representative of the total student population.

3. Avoid punitive or accountability applications of these outcomes.

4. Contextualize any changes in achievement with any local complexities systems and schools may have faced within this last year (e.g., mode of instruction, enrollment rates, attendance rates). 

How should parents use Georgia assessment results to support their children?

Parents will receive an individual student report that will detail a student’s performance along with summary information about aggregate performance at the school, system, and state levels. The results can provide a helpful check for where their child is excelling, as well as where they may need more support. We encourage parents to consider their child’s results within the context of the variety of potential learning disruptions they may have encountered, and recommend that they heavily weight the results of formative assessments administered throughout the years along with coursework and grades.

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