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New state schools chief sees too much testing
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Effingham County Board of Education member Robert Grant, left, listens as state school superintendent Richard Woods talks at Blandford Elementary. - photo by Photo by Paul Floeckher

During his campaign to become state school superintendent, Richard Woods was a vocal critic that Georgia students spend too much time taking standardized tests.

Now that he’s been on the job for a couple months, Woods is hearing that a number of school districts agree with him on that point.

“The big question, are we testing too much? Are we testing the right thing?” Woods said. “That’s probably the biggest issue district-wise, so that’s something we’re continuing to look at.”

Testing was one of the topics Woods addressed on a visit to Effingham County last week. He visited classrooms at Blandford Elementary School and had a roundtable discussion with the board of education.

Woods described the Georgia Milestones Assessment System — and its precursor, the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, or CRCT — as “more of an autopsy report” than an accurate indicator of student progress.

“If it’s an autopsy report, does it actually improve student achievement?” he said. “Does the information we’re receiving allow our teachers to improve the students to get them where we need them to be? It’s at the end of the year, and next year you move on to the next set of standards and groups, where we should be looking where the child is and say, ‘What can we do to improve them?’”

Woods supports taking a more diagnostic approach to evaluating student achievement.

“So it would be less testing, but more measured, and allow the teachers to kind of measure the child as they go along,” he said.

Effingham County Schools Superintendent Randy Shearouse agrees with Woods’ stance that Georgia could reduce its amount of student testing.

“I do not want students dreading school because all they feel like they do is test,” Shearouse said.

For example, Shearouse pointed to the state Department of Education’s directive last year that local school districts establish student learning objectives, or SLOs. The SLOs measure student achievement in subjects outside of the ones covered in the end-of-course tests — reading, English language arts, mathematics, science and social studies for grades 4-8 and all high school courses.

Local districts are responsible for developing their own SLO assessments, Shearouse said. The students take a pre-test in the fall and a test in the spring, and the results are compared to determine their progress.

“So not only are they taking the state tests, now they’re taking all those SLOs as well,” Shearouse said. “Part of that is, if we’re going to hold a teacher accountable in third-grade reading, why aren’t we going to hold a first-grade teacher accountable in whatever subject? But I think you can get too wrapped up in all of that.”

The amount of testing currently required cuts into the time teachers can devote to covering their actual subject material, Shearouse said. Along with the testing days are the days leading up to it devoted to preparing for the test.

“So you have lost the instructional time, too,” Shearouse said.