Students, teachers welcome elimination of SLO tests

The Southerner

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By Alex Opsahl and Sophie Rivard

During the 2016-2017 school year, Grady students will no longer be required to take Student Learning Objective, or SLO tests. SLOs were used to determine changes in students’ scores and growth during a school year. In July 2015, the Georgia Department of Education released guidelines for the tests for the 2015-2016 school year.

While SLO tests would be an option, rather than a requirement, for each school district, the tests were beneficial in their ability to observe teacher impact on student growth, according to the state education department. Growth is measured by comparing the scores of two identical tests: one given at the beginning of the year and one administered at the end. After the state DOE’s modifications were released, many school districts, including Atlanta Public Schools, made the decision to continue SLO tests for the 2015-2016 school year.

However, problems with SLOs persisted into the school year. Some teachers said the SLO tests were an inaccurate reflection of student growth, and the process of standardized testing only put more pressure on the teachers and students while providing little benefit.

“In terms of book knowledge, the SLOs were representative, but in a physical education class, I think there probably should have been a physical component,” said Earthwind Moreland, head football coach and P.E. teacher.
Additionally, some students said they did not perform to the best of their abilities when given little information about what to study or how the tests would impact their grades. Sophomore Adam Miller described the tests as merely a “break from classes.”  Some teachers believe the prevalence of errors on the tests also undermined students’ perception of their validity.

“We’ve seen incorrect answers.  I’ve seen questions where answers are duplicated.  When students see those kinds of mistakes, it’s no wonder they don’t take the test seriously,” said Sara Looman, AP World History teacher.

The discontinuation of SLOs is due to Georgia Senate Bill 364, which passed in May.  The bill allows school districts to replace SLO tests with another student growth measure.
“When we announced to teachers that there wouldn’t be SLOs this year, there was a sigh of relief, and everyone saw that across the board,”  said Raymond Dawson, Grady testing coordinator and assistant principal.   “Fortunately, we have a school system that was listening, and the state made the decision to give districts the option to reduce testing.”

Advocates of fewer tests believe less of an emphasis on testing will encourage people to join and stay in the teaching profession, and that tests should be tailored to each district’s needs.
“We know a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for our students, and it doesn’t work for our teachers, either,” Richard Woods, state school superintendent said in a press release.  “I appreciate that SB 364 allows for tiered observations for our best teachers.”

Some students agree with the removal of SLOs, citing the boredom and stress the tests caused. Students added that the tests did not accurately measure student and teacher performance.
“I think both students and staff can agree that SLOs distract from our curriculum. Most of the SLOs that I took last year didn’t really align with what I had been learning in those classes,” said junior Callie Thweatt.

Some teachers are skeptical about the SLOs’ discontinuation.  One teacher thinks SLOs will be replaced with tests that share the SLOs’ flaws and increase the likelihood of dishonesty.
“They’re either going to take the APS SLOs and simply rename them, repackage them, and use them at the beginning and end of the year,” said Grady teacher Mario Herrera.  “Otherwise, they will pull teachers out from all over the district at the beginning of the year to create their own SLOs, which they then will give, which they then will grade, which then goes onto their record, which means that it’s directly impacting them, which means that again you have the problem of ethics.”

Some teachers are hopeful the extra classroom time and fewer distractions caused by the tests will have a positive impact.
“The SLO wasn’t a well-thought-out testing instrument design in the first place,” said art teacher John Brandhorst. “I think that there are other layers of tests that measure students perfectly well. I don’t think extra testing makes for better students; I think it makes for measured students. It’s a bait-and-switch thing. None of us will miss it.”

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