By Curt Yeomans
High schools across the state will stop using the Georgia High School Graduation Test by the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year, the state Board of Education decided on Wednesday.
The graduation tests, which have been in place since the mid-1990s, are administered to students during their junior year, as a test of everything they have learned up to that point in their English/language arts, mathematics, science and social studies classes. Passage of the test is required, in order to graduate.
Under a plan approved by the state board this week, however, the test will be phased out over the next four school years, in favor of End of Course Tests, also known as EOCTs, which students take at the end of each course in high school.
"I appreciate the state board's vote that finally allows us to move away from the GHSGT [Georgia High School Graduation Test]," said State Superintendent of Schools John Barge, in a written statement. "I don't believe the GHSGT is nearly as good an indicator of how much a student has learned as our End-of-Course Tests.
"The EOCTs are much more rigorous, and they test a student immediately following a course, rather than waiting until a student's junior year to determine whether or not he, or she, has mastered the content of our curriculum," Barge added.
The change in graduation requirements will apply to students who enter high school beginning in the fall of 2011, according to an implementation chart provided by the state's education department. The phasing-out process should be completed at the end of the 2013-2014 school year.
For every student who enters the ninth-grade after July 1 of this year, the EOCT will count as 20 percent of his, or her, final course grade, according to the chart. That is up from the current 15 percent for these tests, according to Georgia Department of Education Spokesman Matt Cardoza.
The department's graduation test phase-out timeline shows, however, that the EOCTs will still count as 15 percent of the final course grade for students who entered high school during the 2010-2011 school year, or earlier.
Cardoza said the EOCTs were created in 2000, as part of the state's A+ Education Reform Act. He said there has been a push since the creation of these tests, to do away with the graduation tests. He said the tests are offered at the end of eight high school courses: Math I, Math II, ninth-grade literature, American literature, biology, physical education, U.S. history, and economics.
The department of education's timeline for phasing out the graduation tests shows that high school students will still have to take, and pass, the Georgia High School Writing Test, even after the graduation test is gone.
But, Cardoza pointed out, "There is some flexibility now for students who are freshmen, sophomores and juniors this [school] year." He explained that if a student fails a section of the graduation test during the spring semesters in 2012, 2013 and 2014, they can substitute that section of the test with a passing score on one of the EOCTs from that subject area.
"If they take one of the math EOCTs, then that can replace the math part of the graduation test," said Cardoza.
But, there are also Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) implications involved with the phasing out of the graduation test. The English/Language Arts, and mathematics sections of the test are currently used to determine whether a school has met the academic requirements for achieving AYP status.
The status is used to indicate whether a school, or district, is meeting the mandates of the federal government's No Child Left Behind Act.
Cardoza said that, with the switch to a greater emphasis on EOCTs, one of the math EOCTs, and one of the literature EOCTs will be used in the future for determining AYP status. That switch will actually come next spring, two years before the last administration of the graduation test.
Clayton County Public Schools Chief Academic Officer Diana Carry said the state board's decision should have "little impact" on the district. She added that Clayton County teachers will "continue to provide quality, rigorous instruction" to students in the school system.
"It is important to remember that this is not the end of high-stakes testing in the high school setting," Carry said. "We still have to meet, or exceed, current No Child Left Behind standards ... The End of Course test is not just an exit test," she added. "It provides important academic accountability for our students."