The word "assessment" might make students, parents and even some teachers nervous.
With the new Georgia Milestones Assessment System underway this year, many parents and students may wonder what the end-of-the-year tests mean and how they can prepare for them.
The Georgia Milestones is designed to give students information about their own achievement. It's also an "accountability tool" for parents and the public to measure the quality of local schools.
The assessment is also a way for the state to consolidate its accountability measures.
"We test so much," said Melissa Fincher, deputy superintendent for assessment and accountability. Fincher spoke at a symposium Jan. 9 hosted by the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education. "One of the things we want to do is eliminate assessments."
The milestones not only consolidate assessments for grades 3-12, but they will replace the high school graduation test as well.
Here are some things to know about the milestone tests:
Milestones do not affect grades or retention this year.
Students in grades 3 through 12 will be tested this spring on Common Core standards in English language arts and math, and on Georgia performance standards in science and social studies.
In the future, the results of the assessment will determine approximately 20 percent of a high school student's grade, and whether a student in any grade level can move on to the next grade.
This year, it will not.
"They waived it for one year, which is this school year, because it's the first year of the Georgia Milestones test," said Matt Cardoza, director of communications for the state Department of Education.
Furthermore, scores this year might dip from those of previous assessments, a result that does not necessarily indicate students are performing worse.
The assessment can be done without calculators, but the state allows their use during the computerized math test. There is a drop-down menu with a calculator on the exam.
Students and parents can prepare for the assessment.
One of the new aspects of the assessment is that it is offered online. The state is requiring 30 percent of students in a district take the test online this year, and in three years, all students across all grades will be required to take it online.
In Rockdale County Public Schools, certain pilot classes in grades 4, 5, 6, 7 are taking the test online. In order to practice and become more comfortable with taking an online test, those classes are taking their upcoming March benchmark assessments online.
Andrea Pritchett, RCPS director of Curriculum and Instruction, said students who took the benchmarks online performed about the same as those who took paper and pencil tests, some even better. Students are comfortable doing things digitally, more so than adults, she pointed out.
"We call them our digital natives," she said.
In some cases, for some special needs students, testers are seeing better results with online tests because students see only one question at a time and can put on headphones to reduce distractions, said Laura Grimwade, RCPS director of Research, Assessment, and Accountability.
Another new aspect of the test are the extended response items. In math, students not only have to get the answer, but even more importantly they have to show how they solved the problem.
"What we started to realize is there's multiple ways to come to the answer. When you're talking about the 21st century skills and critical thinking, there may be multiple ways to attack a problem, as long as we come up with a solution," said Pritchett.
Parents can prepare their children for the examination at home by taking online practice exams:
• Online exams at learnoas.ctb.com/GA/
• Parents can also find guides for each grade and more practice questions at http://www.gadoe.org/Curriculum-Instruction-and-Assessment/Assessment/Pages/Georgia-Milestones-End-of-Grade-Assessment-Guides.aspx
• The RCPS Page with links http://portal.rockdale.k12.ga.us/parents/Pages/GeorgiaMilestones.aspx
The last benchmarks before the Milestones test will be given in the first week of March.
Rockdale County Public Schools will administer the Milestones test between April 21-May 8. Tests for different subjects will be broken up over several days.
The results for this year's Ga. Milestones won't be available until fall but it will eventually count towards the school system's 2015 "report card score" for the College and Career Readiness Index. This year's scores are also the baseline by which to measure future Milestones tests scores.
Since scores won't affect grades this year, the Rockdale County School Board is looking at requiring students in all grades to pass their content courses (English Language Arts, Math, Social Studies, Science), not just the Milestones test, in order to be promoted to the next grade.
The school board will vote on the policy proposal on Thursday, Feb. 26, 7 p.m., at 954 N. Main Street.
Kristen Oliver of The Gainesville Times and Michelle Kim of The Rockdale News contributed to this article.