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Forsyth students exceed state peers on Georgia Milestones tests

High-stakes exams remain mandatory despite disruptions

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CUMMING, Ga. — Officials with the Forsyth County Schools System are assessing the district’s performance on the Georgia Milestones Assessments as they focus on academic recovery and stability under the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We use the state assessments as one tool to assist in the development of our students,” said Jennifer Caracciolo, director of communications. “[But] because of COVID, we also realized how important it is to build great relationships with our students, parents and colleagues.”

Last week the Georgia Department of Education released the results of the federally mandated, annual assessments of student achievement. The tests were administered to students last spring in grades 3-12.

Statewide, test scores declined from those posted in the last assessments given in the 2018-2019 school year, prior to the pandemic. Tests were not administered in the 2019-20 school year.

Students in Forsyth County Schools outperformed their peers in test-by-test comparisons at each grade level. Students are assessed at four levels: beginning, developing, proficient and distinguished learner.

Nearly 30 percent of Forsyth County high school students scored in the top “distinguished learner” level in Algebra 1, compared to 7 percent statewide. One in four local students scored at the highest level in biology, compared to 1 in 10 of their peers statewide.

Forsyth Georgia Milestone results

End of Course test results

Forsyth County High School results / Georgia results

While test scores are important, said Caracciolo, they are less important when navigating education disrupted by the pandemic.

“We had a very successful 2020-21 school year and the number one reason why was because of our focus on relationships over scores,” Caracciolo said.

She noted the district also considers the “social and emotional” impacts of COVID on instruction and learning.

State education officials said the most recent results should be kept in context.

“Georgia Milestones was designed to measure the performance of students in a typical educational environment,” said Meghan Frick, spokeswoman for the GDOE. “And in 2020-2021, rolling quarantines, rising case counts, and shifting instructional models impacted the educational experience for students throughout the state.”

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Comparisons from previous scores are also difficult because participation mandates were waived. In Forsyth County Schools, fewer than half of enrolled high school students took the Milestones tests.

“State School Superintendent Richard Woods made clear school districts should not require virtual students to come into the building [just for] Georgia Milestones if they were uncomfortable doing so,” Frick said.

In grades 3-5, the End of Grade Milestones are used for promotion and retention decisions. In high school, End of Course tests serve as the final exam in the tested course and count as 20 percent of the final grade.

Because of the pandemic, school districts were given flexibility in how results were used. End of Course test scores in high schools counted for 10 percent of the final grade only if they helped improve a student’s grade. Otherwise, it counted for only 0.01 percent of the final grade. In the younger grades, other factors for retention and promotion were used.

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Parents will receive a report from the state detailing their student’s performance, along with summary information about overall performance at the school, system and state levels.

To view results for the Forsyth County Schools System, visit the Georgia Department of Education website at www.gadoe.org/Milestones.

Georgia Milestones

Federal education legislation passed in 2001 mandated annual testing of public school students under the No Child Left Behind Act. The act held districts responsible for ensuring all students performed at acceptable levels and penalized schools and districts that did not show improvement.

In Georgia, students in first through eighth grade took a series of Criterion Reference Competency Tests (CRCTs) each spring in core subject areas.

In 2015, No Child Left Behind was replaced by the Every Child Succeeds Act. The new law took away the federal penalties and pushed decision-making to the states and school districts on how to raise achievement levels.

The new law required all states to have, at minimum, an annual assessment to measure student achievement in math, English/language arts and science.

In Georgia, current federal requirements are met through the Georgia Milestone End of Grade (EOG) tests in grades three through eight, and End of Course (EOC) tests in specific high school courses. Georgia students are also tested in social studies (EOG) and U.S. history (EOC).

EOG tests are used for student promotion and retention. EOC tests count as the final exam in tested subjects and count for 20 percent of the student’s overall grade.

Candy Waylock is an award winning education reporter who has covered all things education for Appen Media over the past 20 years. She is an Alpharetta resident.

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