Originally created 08/17/99

Plan of action needed



SMYRNA, Ga. - Georgia students may be tested in middle and high school to indicate if they are on the right track to college or a job after graduation.

And during elementary, middle and high school, they could face end-of-the-course tests to help determine if they should be promoted or held back for extra work.

Those are two of the ideas Gov. Roy Barnes and members of his Education Reform Study Commission said Monday they will look at to better prepare students for life after graduation.

Mr. Barnes also told the commission he wants a more structured system of classes for students so they all get the type of math, English and science courses they need.

"I used to tell my kids if they spent half as much time studying as they do looking for easy courses, they would get a lot farther down the road," Mr. Barnes said.

Mr. Barnes and his commission spent about five hours Monday tossing out ideas on such issues as teacher shortages, testing, accountability and school finance. The 64-member commission will make recommendations later this year to be included in the education package of legislation Mr. Barnes will take to the General Assembly in January.

Mr. Barnes said an end-of-the-course test for youngsters "makes common sense" to help determine where children stand academically. Some states use such tests to decide if students should be promoted to the next grade, but he said if it is used for that in Georgia, it would be only one component of several in helping educators make that determination.

"The way to end social promotion is to have a child (doing math or reading) on grade level by the third grade," the governor said.

That's why the state has provided about 600 elementary schools with extra money to fund intensive reading instruction.

Wendy Martin, a Lee County school board member, told colleagues on the reform task force that a new high school testing program would inform students early on about their readiness for college, technical school or a job.

It also would help students choose the right high school courses through the remainder of their careers to achieve the skills they need for life after they graduate.

Mr. Barnes said students could begin to take the readiness tests as early as eighth grade.

"We'd like to have a road map for every student," said Gordon Whitener, a task force member and president of Interface Americas of Cartersville.

"I think it would give a lot of credibility to the high school diploma," added Sen. Eddie Madden, D-Elberton, another member of the commission.

While it may prove troubling to some students initially, the governor said, "It's better to be discouraged when you can do something about it than when you're in the unemployment line."

Mr. Barnes said students would learn what kind of jobs they could get after graduation with the skill level they have achieved in school.

However, task force member Amy Totenburg, an Atlanta lawyer, said parents may be frustrated with what the tests show about their children.

"Too many parents will say, `I don't know what to do,"' Ms. Totenburg said, so systems better have a plan of action to determine what they will do with the information to help children.

That is something many schools have been lacking in general when they receive bad test results, the governor told the panel.

"It's like balancing a checkbook. If it shows you have a negative balance, you do something to make it positive," he said.

If new tests are implemented, state Board of Education Chairman Otis Brumby urged the task force to support eliminating some of the exams students are now taking.

"We've got so many tests, I don't believe people focus on them because there are so many," Mr. Brumby said. "I think we have so many they don't have an impact."