Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Senate Proposal Would Allow for Test Opt-Outs; Bill Also Would Lessen Test Results' Impact on Teacher Evaluations

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Senate Proposal Would Allow for Test Opt-Outs; Bill Also Would Lessen Test Results' Impact on Teacher Evaluations

Article excerpt

Byline: Walter C. Jones

ATLANTA | Teacher evaluations would be less dependent on student-exam scores, and parents would be able to opt out of standardized tests under legislation introduced Wednesday in the Senate.

Just three years ago, the Legislature enacted a grading system for classroom instructors where half was based on test scores in compliance with federal mandates. The state is only now phasing in that requirement statewide after trying it in a dozen or so districts as part of a $400 million Race to the Top grant Georgia received.

But teachers have loudly complained that reliance on scores is unfair. As the 2016 legislative session began, Senate Republicans announced they had heard the teachers, listing test reform as a top priority.

Senate Republican Caucus Chairman William Ligon is taking the lead by introducing Senate Bill 355 with multiple co-sponsors. It's not pandering to a large voting bloc but rather paying attention to research, he says.

The text of the bill even begins by citing research from a couple of sources showing tests don't accurately gauge the teacher's impact - even after three years.

"You have to remember each child is different, and there are children that come from horrible, horrible circumstances, and the method in place does not take that into consideration," said Ligon, R-St. Simons Island. "That is one of the complaints that a lot of the teachers have had."

A central argument in favor of requiring students to pass the state's tests when they complete each course is an attempt to ensure all learn the same material regardless of which classroom they happened to be assigned. It was also supposed to assess teachers on their results rather than their seniority and college credentials.

Ligon said in practice, judging teachers based on the tests isn't effective.

"The problem is that the students in one classroom vary from the students in another classroom: different levels of abilities, performance, backgrounds. …

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