Considering a GA Milestones Test Opt Out?
There are many reasons you might be considering opting your child out of the GA Milestones testing. If you do decide to opt your child out of the GA Milestones Test, there are still some major issues that exist with the testing in GA that you may want to consider for next school year. The problem is not just the test itself, but everything surrounding the testing system that affects your child’s school experience. As a private school Head of School, I meet the families who have opted out of the public system all the way, and often their experience with standardized testing is a primary reason for that choice. But standardized testing isn’t all bad. Surprised to hear me say that? There are many issues with it, but there can also be many benefits when it is implemented in a way that benefits the students and teachers. Read on to find out the top issues with standardized testing, including the GA Milestones Test, and also a look at how it could be made to be beneficial.
My Top 3 Issues with High Stakes Testing (and specifically the Georgia Milestones Test):
Test Results are not Useful to Teachers for Guiding Instruction
- There is too much turn-around time between test taking, and getting useful data back to the teachers, that teachers can’t even use the data to guide their instruction. If test results are received by teachers six weeks after the test is taken, the results have limited use, as the areas the student struggled in may already have been addressed. For many teachers, the results they do eventually get back are still not useful in guiding instruction, because if they see an area a student is scoring low in, they are unable to take the time to revisit that area with that student, if the time for addressing it has already passed.
Public Schools Average 30+ Days Per School Year Just in Test Prep and Test Taking
- If anyone proposed outright to reduce the instruction period of the school year by 30 days, they would be laughed at. Instead, testing has insidiously increased over time to now take up approximately 16% of the school year, with little educational value. This goes against any reasonable action to improve the education offered to students. If standardized testing were completely removed and that time added back into the school day, it could equate to 40-60 minutes per day of extra instruction! See this report from the AFT on how much time schools are spending in testing–up to a month and a half in some schools!
High Stakes of Tests Causes High Anxiety
When a test is perceived by the students as “high stakes,” it can cause very high anxiety levels in a student. Many will point out that the SATs are similarly high stakes, but really they are not–you have many opportunities to improve your results, you have flexibility in selecting the time and location of your test, and you are almost an adult when you take those test. Kindergarten and elementary students especially often do not have all the skills needed to take a high stakes test, and it would not be developmentally appropriate to expect it of them.
This top 3 list is based on my personal experience working in the private sector of education for many years, and all the continual education that comes with it. Being in a private school, I have the opportunity to talk to a lot of parents, students, and teachers that come to the private sector of education due to the issues they face specifically due to the vastly increased standardized testing requirements. This trend is only increasing. I see the negative effects of overarching standardized testing routinely, as families and teachers come to look at alternatives to a broken system.
Why Opting Out of the Georgia Milestones Test Only Solves Part of the Problem
Opting out of testing may have some benefits, including making a strong statement that you do not support what the tests stand for. Unfortunately, until the whole system changes, opting out of the test itself does not stop your student from being negatively impacted by all the things related to the tests. Your student will still receive vastly reduced instructional time due to the test prep and the days set aside for the testing, even if they do not attend those days. Your student is still impacted by the fact that their teachers have to curb their creativity to teach (or drill) the specific set of facts that are chosen to be presented on the tests. And, in choosing to opt-out, you and your student may feel anxiety related to that decision, as many families express uncertainty in how opting out will impact them.
Private School as An Alternative to the GA Milestones Test
Private schools are not required to follow the same curriculum standards and testing that public schools must adhere to. This allows private schools to individually determine how they will handle standardized testing and curriculum, so that you can choose a school that fits your child’s needs.
Foundations for the Future School in Kennesaw, GA, is a small private elementary school, offering Kindergarten through 6th grade in a multi-grade, project based, creative learning environment. We see that standardized testing has a place in school, but not to the pervasive level it is being used in public schools. Foundations uses the Measures of Academic Performance (MAP) standardized test, so parents can see how their students are performing in comparison to national norms. However, that is where the similarity stops.
The Top 3 Great Things about Standardized Testing at Foundations School:
Test Results ARE Useful for Teachers to Guide Instruction
- The test questions are adaptive, so they get increasingly harder as the student progresses, quickly assessing their highest level of understanding. If they miss a question, it reduces the difficulty level, and then increases it again, until a full and accurate picture of the student’s exact proficiency is achieved.
- Results are given to teachers with 48 hours, and they are extremely pinpointed to specific skills, so teachers can immediately adjust their curriculum plans to address any gaps in learning.
Test Taking and Test Prep Only Takes a Total of 5 Hours PER YEAR
- We test three times per year, to get a baseline at the beginning of the school year, a mid-point check-in, and a end-of-year progress update. Each test window is one week long, but only about 20 minutes per day. If a student is absent, they can make it up on a different day within the week, so there is no pressure to come and test even if your student is not feeling their best that day.
Low Anxiety Testing Format
- Our students love testing! We make it fun for them, instead of stressful. The MAP test is all done electronically, so they use iPads and mini-laptops. We let them test where they feel comfortable, whether that is at the table, on the couch, or even in the gymnastics foam pit.
The way that Foundations School does standardized testing is far more efficient and effective than the typical standardized testing in GA public schools. I encourage you to consider private education as an option if the standardized testing system in GA public schools is not a good fit for your student. If finances are a concern, most private schools offer Financial Aid or Scholarships, so it is worth checking into further. In addition, there are non-profit organizations like Pay It Forward, Apogee, and GOAL that can provide some assistance to families looking to switch into a private school.
See these links for news articles about Opting Out of the GA Milestones Test: