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October 26, 2016

 Georgia School Superintendent
Richard Woods
  Newton County School Superintendent
Samantha Fuhrey

In a letter dated October 6, 2016, Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods denied Newton County School Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey’s request for a waiver of the 2017 Georgia Milestones Assessment System in grades 3-8. Fuhrey had submitted the request to the Georgia Department of Education on July 20, 2016 seeking approval to use the Iowa assessments in lieu of the Georgia Milestones End-of-Grade assessments.

In his letter, Superintendent Woods noted the school system’s request, “presents several hurdles which, unfortunately, we are unable to overcome at this time.”

“Georgia Milestones serves as the foundation of our state’s College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) and the CCRPI, in turn, is instrumental in Newton County’s Strategic Waiver contract,” Woods explained. “State law does not allow the State Board of Education to waive accountability requirements, which include administration of the state testing program (OCGA 20-2-82).

According to the state school superintendent, the 2016-2017 school year has been established as a “transitional period” as states are working to “develop and implement their plans for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)” and states are “required to continue to meet the requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as reauthorized by No Child Left Behind.”  

Although Georgia was granted continuation of its approved ESEA waiver, which allows the state to utilize CCRPI in lieu of calculating Adequate Yearly Progress, Woods said the state remains “under the mandate of administering the same assessment to all students enrolled in our public system in grades 3-8 and high school” and as a result, Georgia’s State Board of Education “does not have the authority to waive federal law.”

While Superintendent Woods denied Newton County School System’s request for the waver, he noted, “the administration of the Iowa Assessments remains a local decision and nothing prohibits Newton County from utilizing the tests to inform instructional practices. The issue becomes one of comparability and accountability.”

With the full support of the Newton County Board of Education, Superintendent Fuhrey requested the waiver because of her concern that teachers were spending inordinate amounts of what should be instructional time for students administering state required assessments.

“Georgia law charges the State Department of Education with designing and implementing an assessment that results in data districts can use to improve instruction,” Fuhrey noted in her letter. “Respectfully, the 2015-2016 Georgia Milestones administration failed to achieve this goal and resulted in the substantial loss of instructional time for students in grades 3-8. The state has not provided actionable data that can be used to reduce student achievement gaps.”

According to Fuhrey, her proposal to use the Iowa assessments was and is aligned to ESSA and Georgia law relating to student assessments.

“Use of the Iowa assessments would allow the Newton County School System to ensure both federal and state requirements are met, while producing meaningful and timely information to stakeholders,” Fuhrey explained in her letter. In addition, use of the Iowa would provide Newton County’s teachers with “real-time data that provides information about the strengths and weaknesses of their current students.”

“I am very disappointed in the response from State Superintendent Woods; I believe our IOWA pre and post-assessment model better demonstrates how students have grown academically over the course of a school year,” said Superintendent Fuhrey. “Dr. Allison Jordan, Director of Testing, Research, and Evaluation, is reviewing the feedback provided in the correspondence and reaching out to the United States Department of Education for additional guidance.” 

Fuhrey added, “The first administration of the IOWA, conducted in August, yielded timely, actionable, reliable, and valid data directly aligned to those indicators that reflect a child’s current level of performance. The results of the assessments were available to school staff within 24 hours of the test administration.  Such an unprecedented, quick turnaround provided teachers with information about students’ strengths and areas for improvement. Unlike the Georgia Milestones End-of-Grade Assessments which provides data after students have moved to the next grade level, the IOWA assessments provide our teachers and leaders with current data that enable them to address the specific needs of each student.   Although we are required to administer the Georgia Milestones End-of- Grade Assessments to students in grades 3-8, we plan to administer the IOWA post-assessment in May 2017 in an effort to provide teachers and parents with timely information regarding students’ academic growth during the 16-17 school year.”