NOTE: As advised by the Georgia Department of Education, the news media and public should exercise caution in making year-to-year comparisons using the state-level data due to changes in students' learning environments and differences in participation. In general, year-to-year comparisons should not be made using school- and district-level data.
In Spring 2021, Cobb's fourth-graders sat down to take the Georgia Milestones for the first time. If 2020 had been a typical year, those students would have already taken the state assessment in third grade. However, due to the COVID-19, the Georgia Milestones was not administered in 2020, and even with the opportunity to test reinstated student participation in 2021 lagged below the number of students who took Milestones in 2019.
More than 95% of Cobb students enrolled in grades 3–8 and in EOC courses took one or more Milestones tests in the years before the pandemic. In 2020-2021, approximately 68% of Cobb students enrolled in those grades and courses took a Milestones test. The difference in participation rates, among other factors related to COVID-19, makes a comparison between school years ill-advised according to the Georgia Department of Education.
This was primarily due to conditions created by the pandemic. The State Board of Education approved Superintendent Woods' proposal to temporarily lower the EOC course grade weight to .01%, which may have also contributed to the lower participation rate.
Guidance issued by State School Superintendent Richard Woods made clear, in line with federal guidance, that school districts could not require virtual students to come into the building solely for the purpose of taking Georgia Milestones if they were uncomfortable doing so due to the pandemic. The Georgia Department of Education applied to the U.S. Department of Education (USED) for a waiver of high-stakes testing requirements for the 2020-2021 school year, but USED denied Georgia's request for a waiver.
As was the case across Georgia, student participation at Cobb schools varied widely, and no Cobb school had an overall participation rate of 95% or higher. Thirty Cobb schools posted participation rates between 85-94%, followed by 43 schools with 70-85% participation.
As a result, the Georgia Department of Education is encouraging educators, parents, and communities to remember that the Georgia Milestones tests were designed to measure the performance of students in a typical educational environment, so results should be interpreted in the context of the pandemic and associated learning disruptions, along with varying access to instruction. The scores were released along with participation data since some students did not participate in testing last year due to the pandemic.
"Georgia Milestones was designed to measure instruction during a typical school year, and 2020-2021 was anything but," State School Superintendent Richard Woods said. "Rolling quarantines, rising case counts, and shifting instructional models impacted the educational experience for students throughout the state."
Despite the wide-ranging challenges of 2020 and 2021, Cobb students demonstrated their ability to lead the way. More Cobb students (73.8%) scored in levels 2–4 than their metro Atlanta (69.2%) and Georgia (68.2%) peers.
Cobb students scored higher than students in the 12 other school districts located in metro Atlanta and Georgia students overall, both in all subjects and in the percent of students reading on grade level.
The student participation rate on the Georgia Milestones may have dropped, but Cobb educators do not rely solely on end-of-year assessments. Cobb teachers conduct formative assessments throughout the school year to determine what students know so they can tailor instruction to meet the learning needs of each student. Those assessments occur for every student in the District, regardless of whether they are learning in-person or virtually.
So, Cobb teachers did not have to wait for the results from Georgia Milestones to know where students needed learning support. To help students with any learning loss they experienced due to the pandemic, Cobb Schools expanded summer enrichment opportunities through programs like Summer Learning Quest and the Summer Enrichment Academy. Cobb educators will continue to monitor student progress this year so they can respond promptly to student needs and adjust instruction as necessary.
To assist Cobb families during digital learning, the District provided over $10 million in digital devices. Cobb also dispatched 27 buses equipped with wifi to help students stay connected. The Cobb Schools Food & Nutrition Services helped fuel student success by providing students with 3.5 million meal kits.
District leaders also recognized the importance of providing options that support safe, high-quality learning environments for all 110,000 of our students, their families, and our staff. For most Cobb families, that meant a return to in-person learning.
Starting in Fall 2020, Cobb families had the opportunity to choose the learning environment that worked best for their student. Families were given more options in Spring 2021 to choose whether their student would be best served by in-person or virtual learning. All students and families were also able to choose the classroom that was best for their student and family for the 2020-2021 school year.