Fulton County students vying for acceptance into the Talented and Gifted (TAG) program and higher-level classes should not be impacted by the district’s decision to scrap an annual test of student achievement.

After technical glitches disrupted the Oct. 21 delivery of the Iowa Assessments in the first hour, Fulton School officials pulled the plug. At the time, 14,000 students in grades three, five and eight across 61 schools had begun testing; 6,000 students had yet to begin.

“Fulton County Schools’ technology and systems were not the cause of the failure; this was solely a vendor issue,” Chief Academic Officer Cliff Jones said.

He said the lack of scores will have no impact on a student’s academic records or TAG eligibility. 

“Fulton County Schools uses the Iowa Assessment as one of many data points in the process to determine if students qualify for the Talented and Gifted program,” Jones said.

The standardized test, often referred to as the ITBS (Iowa Test of Basic Skills), has been administered annually for decades in Fulton Schools. Parents have long favored the Iowa Assessment as it is a nationally normed test allowing comparison among students from across the country.

Jones noted any student who needed Iowa Assessment results to qualify for TAG will instead take the Stanford 10 test, a similar assessment, in the spring.  Additionally, current TAG students in fifth grade will take the Stanford 10 in the coming months to determine middle school placements in advanced level courses.

The 2019 Iowa Assessment was only the second time the test was given online in Fulton Schools. The decision was made, Jones said, to align with the state’s move toward a digital testing platform for speed and security reasons.

Unlike the annual Georgia Milestones Assessments, the Iowa Assessment is not mandated by the state, so Fulton had no contingency plans to move to paper and pencil in the event of a technical issue.

The district budgeted nearly $390,000 for the Iowa Assessment this year, and Jones said they are working with the vendor for compensation.

As Fulton Schools looks toward the spring delivery of the Milestones, Jones said there should be no concerns of similar online problems. The Milestones, which includes End of Course and End of Grades tests in grades three through 12, moved to a digital format two years ago.

“This is neither the same test nor the same vendor as the state-mandated Georgia Milestones,” Jones said. “This [Iowa Assessment] event does not give us any concern for Milestones.”

Because of the high stakes surrounding the Milestones for both final grades and promotion, the state has encouraged contingencies — paper testing — in the event of technical disruptions.

Jones said the issues with the Iowa Assessment do not reflect upon Fulton Schools and its technology capabilities, although room always exists for improvement.

“Fulton County Schools’ technology and systems were not the cause of the failure; this was solely a vendor issue,” Jones emphasized. “However, we are always looking for ways to balance the need to make decisions based on current, accurate data with the time students must spend taking assessments rather than learning.”

To that end, Jones said Fulton Superintendent Mike Looney has directed staff to review all assessments to  determine what, if any, tests may be eliminated.

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