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Georgia To Drop Paper-and-Pencil Test for Kindergartners

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The Georgia Board of Education has approved a proposal by the state school chief to eliminate the use of pencil-and-paper tests to assess kindergarten students' readiness for 1st grade.

Georgia drew criticism from early-childhood experts nationwide last year when it became the first state to require kindergarten students to take a pencil-and-paper test as a condition for promotion. (See Education Week, March 2, 1988.)

Although the program factored in teacher judgments and additional assessments, educators and parents who testified at several public hearings argued that formal tests are unreliable and subject young children to undue stress.

To address those concerns, State Superintendent Werner Rogers last week proposed replacing the California Achievement Test with an updated version of a state-designed, criteria-referenced test for kindergarten students that had been introduced in 1980.

The "Georgia kindergarten assessment of communication arts and number understanding" directs teachers to assess pupils' skills in listening, speaking, and writing. But it does not require students to fill in answer sheets, according to Joy E. Blount, a consultant in the education department's division of assessment.

Mr. Werner also proposed basing promotion decisions more heavily on teacher evaluations. And he offered a recommended "checklist" of skills and activities to help teachers monitor pupils' progress.

Mr. Rogers recommended that the state continue to use the cat this year. But he proposed offering teachers "ranges" of scores upon which to judge kindergartners' performance--an approach that would replace the "drop-dead, pass-fail, cut score," required under the current procedure, said Glenn Newsome, legislative liaison for the state education department.

The 10-member board unanimously backed Mr. Rogers's proposals late last week and directed the state education department to proceed with development of the updated readiness test.

Although some board members have voiced reservations in recent weeks about revising the testing procedure, "everyone felt good that we were making a change," said Hollis Q. Lathem, the board's president. Mr. Lathem, who noted that the final test proposal will be subject to board approval, said the new procedure will "get away from one that we have learned causes so much stress for the child."

'Everything's Wrong'

Mr. Rogers touched off a debate in the legislature last month when he first submitted a proposal to the board that would have required school systems to develop their own kindergarten assessment plans and would have offered them a choice of seven 1st-grade readiness tests.

The move angered some legislators who had backed his controversial decision last year to use the California Achievement Test.

"I questioned [state officials] before we ever put the cat in," said Representative William C. Mangum, chairman of the House education committee. "They told me at the time that they had piloted this for two years and interviewed over 4,000 teachers and everything's ready--and then the first year we had the test and all of a sudden everything's wrong."

Representative Mangum introduced a bill last month that would have blocked the state chief's proposal by requiring the use of a single, uniform assessment for kindergartners throughout the state. The House approved the measure by a vote of 136 to 34.

The Senate education committee, however, voted to set the bill aside for further study. The action effectively killed the measure for the current legislative session, which was drawing to a close last week.

Representative Mangum maintained that legislators who tried to block Mr. Rogers's earlier proposal were not "wedded" to a particular test. But, he added, they felt that a uniform measure of readiness for 1st grade--beyond teacher evaluations--should be used statewide.

"All the legislature has ever asked was that a test be developed that can be administered to kindergartners showing they are ready for 1st grade work," Mr. Mangum said.

Some critics had charged that revising the kindergarten testing rules would "weaken" enforcement of the state's Quality Basic Education Act.

But Mr. Lathem maintained that the revisions would bolster the education-reform law "by making the environment better for kindergarten children--and yet still trying to assess those children and identify the ones who need early help."

About 12.5 percent of the state's kindergarten students were retained last year; 8.6 percent of that group failed the cat, according to Ms. Blount.

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