FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — The bottom line for students is mandatory state tests are still on the table this school year, but they will count for nearly nothing toward a final grade.

State School Superintendent Richard Woods prevailed in his months-long effort to ease the testing burden on students after the State Board of Education withdrew its opposition to a lower weight.

After the formality of a vote this week by the state board, Georgia’s End of Course Milestone tests will count for a minimum of .01 percent of a student’s final grade for the 2020-21 school year. Typically, the tests count for 20 percent of a student’s final grade.

“I appreciate the State Board of Education hearing and responding to the clear will of the people on this issue,” Woods said. “It is logistically, pedagogically and morally unreasonable to administer high-stakes standardized tests in the middle of a pandemic.”

Some members of the state board opposed lowering the weight of the test because it diminished accountability for teachers, students and districts, and the concern students would not take it seriously. 

Woods countered that in the midst of a pandemic, End of Course tests are not reliable measures of academic progress or achievement.

Under federal law, states must have an annual test of student achievement to measure progress. In Georgia, the End of Course tests are given each spring in courses taught primarily in high school. Last spring, the tests were waived as COVID-19 shuttered schools across the state.

As the pandemic continued into the fall, Woods requested a federal testing waiver for the 2020-21 school year. That request was denied by the U.S. Department of Education, but Woods campaigned to change course and instead change the impact of the test.

In October, Woods proposed the .01 percent weight at the State Board of Education meeting. The board rejected that proposal, supporting instead a 10 percent weight on the student’s final grade.

Woods maintained that 10 percent still left the “high stakes” label on the tests.

“Insisting on high-stakes consequences for those tests is unreasonable and insensitive to the realities of the classroom,” Woods said. “I am confident our high school students whose GPAs and scholarships are riding on this decision would agree that a 10 percent weight is still high-stakes.”

During a public comment period in October and November, more than 86 percent of the 93,000 respondents supported a .01 percent weight, compared to only 11 percent who agreed with the 10 percent weight.

In late November, the State Board of Education also agreed to accept Wood’s recommendation and will likely make it official this week. The state’s chief education official said the decision takes some of the pressure off students and teachers in a year full of disruptions.

“Who we are will be measured not by a test score, but by how we meet this moment,” Woods said. “[This decision means] no test prepping or cramming…no punishing students, teachers, or schools for scores.”

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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