How Standardized Testing Fails Georgia Students and Teachers

The Georgia education system faces a real threat as teachers are flocking away from the profession and students battle test anxiety and learning loss. These problems stem from one issue: standardized testing.

The System

Georgia’s standardized test is the Georgia Milestones Assessment System, which tests students in elementary, middle and high school over the core subjects of English language arts, mathematics, science and social studies.[1] The Georgia Board of Education voted to pay $7.5 million to the company that creates the Georgia Milestones exams for the 2020-2021 school year.[2]

High school students can take many other exams such as End-of-Course exams (EOC), Career and Technical Education exams (CTE), Student Learning Objective exams (SLO) and Advanced Placement exams (AP), along with the SAT/ACT.[3]  Additionally, many local school districts administer their own assessments. For example, Gwinnett County administers its own district-wide standardized test every nine weeks to measure student learning. [4]

Teacher Evaluations

According to a study by the Georgia Department of Education, 44% of Georgia public school teachers quit teaching within five years.[5]  A survey from the same source found that the overwhelming reason for the loss of so many educators is due to the state’s reliance on standardized testing as a method of evaluating teachers. Currently, the growth in student achievement on state assessments counts for 30% of teachers’ end-of-year assessment.[6]  Many believe it is unfair to base such a large proportion of teacher evaluations on student test scores, as there are many other factors which contribute to student growth, such as their home life and access to extra resources like tutors.[7] Further, students who are more privileged and have access to more resources will perform better on standardized tests, leading teachers who teach more disadvantaged students to be unfairly evaluated.[8]

Testing Anxiety

Over reliance on standardized testing has led 16-18% of students to have high testing anxiety, while another 18% have moderately-high testing anxiety.[9] At a 2019 meeting with Governor Brian Kemp, Georgia educators told many horror stories of overwhelmed students vomiting on their tests and crying during exam periods.[10] The stress that is put on Georgia students to perform well on standardized tests clearly takes a toll on their mental health.

Learning Loss

The emphasis on standardized testing in Georgia schools takes away time for learning. In some cases, standardized testing can take up to two weeks of school time.[11] Teachers are forced to prep students for standardized testing instead of teaching critical thinking skills.[12] Additionally, standardized testing prevents teachers from adapting different methods of teaching, such as music or art. This hurts students who learn best in nonstandard ways. Many students have learning difficulties or differences in learning style, and standardized testing and methods of preparation for these tests ignore students’ individual needs.[13] Standardized testing reduces Georgia students’ learning to low-level thought processes necessary for scoring well.

Low-income and minority students at underperforming schools are disproportionately affected by the learning loss that entails standardized testing.[8] When teachers feel pressure for their underperforming students to test better, they spend more time preparing for tests, rather than teaching.

Moving Forward

Expecting students and teachers to accept this test-centered, corporate version of school is unacceptable. The millions of dollars spent every year on the development and implementation of standardized testing could be better used to raise teacher salaries and provide more resources to schools. The state of Georgia and local school districts must limit the number of mandated tests in order to allow educators to focus on teaching, improve the mental health of students and enhance learning.