Georgia Test Fiasco Leads to Some Changes

K-12 Testing

FairTest Examiner - July 2008

Massive failures on the Georgia state social studies test prompted a teacher panel to call for major revisions to state standards. Scores for this year’s tests were tossed out after 71% of 6th graders and 76% of 7th graders failed. But math tests on which failure rates were nearly as high were not scrapped, forcing thousands of students to attend hastily organized summer schools to avoid grade retention. Because final promotion decisions are locally-based, it remains unclear how many children will be retained.

The social studies Criterion Referenced Competency Tests, or CRCTs, were based on a new, “more rigorous” curriculum. A teacher panel charged the new standards were too broad, making it difficult to know what to teach.

Social studies and history teachers often say state tests in these subjects are “a mile wide and an inch deep,” promoting a “Trivial Pursuit” approach to teaching and learning. With such exams, teachers might teach standard A, which is not on the test, while standard B is, but wasn’t taught. “You can’t teach everything, so you have to zoom in on what matters most,” said Eddie Bennett, a middle/high school social studies coordinator.

The Georgia teacher panel reacted to the testing fiasco by narrowing the focus of the standards to “big ideas,” rather than fact memorization, and clarifying what is most important. However, multiple choice tests are not good at measuring big ideas, so the outcome could still be a focus on narrow, isolated facts rather than broad, content.

After overhaul of the standards is completed, the tests must be revised, which could take two years, so next year’s scores also will not count.