GAA Backstory

30 Nov

Okay, hope you enjoyed the break from GAA, short as it was.  But there’s too much good stuff to share to hold back.  Really.


First off, let’s talk just a minute about scoring.  Most assessments that are performed un NCLB are scored by a computer or machine, unless there is an essay portion.  In Georgia, the Georgia High School Graduation Test does have an essay portion to it.  This is being done more and more on standardized tests, in general.  The last time I took the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) I had to write an essay, maxed that part out which is good because the rest needed a bit of help!


The portfolios that we are turning in for the GAA are even more challenging than an essay.  Very few tasks will be the same, the abilities of the students vary greatly and the methods of taking and recording the data vary.  For instance, just for TAZ, I have several pictures with captions, some data that include least-to-most prompting, and then some pictures of some exercises he does on a flannel board.  Other teachers will use observations, interviews, video and all manner of student samples of work.  Now imagine scoring about 5000 of these things and trying to have some semblance of reliability and validity.  It’s kind of a joke but no one in D. C. or Atlanta is laughing.  Or maybe they are, except behind closed doors.


Well, the answer to all of this is Questar.  There are a lot of companies called Questar but this is the only one doing educational scoring.  Questar is doing pretty well, judging by a recent merger announcement.  This testing stuff is big, huge business.  Remember these guys can better afford to bribe congress than you and me.  And we’re still paying for through our tax dollars.  So yeah, this sounds like a great way to piss away a few hundred million dollars.


I and other Georgia teachers have been complaining ever more loudly about how this process was seemingly thrown together at the last minute.  Make no mistake– it was.  To understand the scramble, we first have to trace the history of all of this.  In my last post, I gave you a link to some NCLB history.  While congress was grousing and horse trading in the reauthorization of the Elementary Secondary Education Act (ESEA), another reauthorization bill was looming off in the distance: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA.  NCLB was signed in January 2002 after almost 3 years of political horse trading.  2002 was the year that IDEA was supposed to be reauthorized.  In all the fuss and rush to get NCLB out the door, no one gave a lot of thought as to the effect those provisions would have on IDEA.  Now they had some serious problems.  Some of the 2,000+ odd provisions and details that were not worked out in the NCLB act that just passed were in direct conflict with IDEA.  And they still are.  But we’re concerned with the timeline, here. 


It wasn’t until December of 2004 that this thing finally passed and lawmakers worked diligently to make sure that this law was subservient to the NCLB act.  It was only in august of 2006 that the final regulations were released.  However, regarding NCLB compliance, there was no such lag allowed.  The first thing that hit us in the face the the “Highly Qualified” provision of NCLB.  You can read all about that in an earlier entry.  We had only a matter of months to comply with provisions that congress spent years trying to work out. 


NCLB’s biggest issue is that of accountability, or at least this is the great big flag GW Bush used to rally his Republican troops behind as they were none too pleased about expanding the Dept. of Education’s influence and budget.  Remember many of these same congress people want to abolish the DOE!  So GW pounded the airwaves and the pavement and pressed the flesh and kept going on and on about accountability.  You can’t know how you are doing if you don’t keep score and all of that.  So now we have high stakes testing.  The other provision GW made to his Republican friends was the fact that states could choose their own standards and tests as long as the tests measured performance on those standards.


Still with me?


The state of Georgia then revamped their standards which did make things a bit easier.  Instead of the older standards which were a series of very stringent and objective criteria, the new standards are much more subjective in nature.  As opposed to having to know a very specific set of facts and skills, student must be able to analyze, synthesize and otherwise use higher order thinking skills.  It looks a lot better on paper than the old standards.


IDEA 1997 required students with disabilities to participate in state testing.  You see, IDEA 1997 was actually aligning with the prior reauthorization of the ESEA which in fact had almost the same identical provisions that NCLB had.  Yes, you read right.  After all of that wrangling, they didn’t make a lot of substantial changes from the old ESEA to NCLB except one which was tying performance and compliance to funding.  That made all the difference in the world.  However, IDEA ’97 made a provision for students who could not participate in state wide testing because of their severe disabilities.  It was designed for students who were so severe that no level of accommodation would allow them to even approach being competitive on a state test.  This was called the alternate assessment.  Again, each state could devise its own alternate assessment.  In Georgia, they did not align their alternate assessment with the state curriculum instead they aligned it with the goals and objectives from the IEP.  Which make sense to me, since the IEP is what determines what the curriculum is, especially for students with the most severe disabilities.


However, with NCLB, this was no longer good enough.  Instead of the primacy of the IEP which was pretty firmly established in IDEA ’97, the IEP became subservient to NCLB in 2004.  Congress calls this alignment.  I call it ridiculous and discriminatory.


In 2005, the scramble was on to comply with this new “alignment,”  specifically the highly qualified provisions.  The alternate assessment, however, was still in place as it was.  However, since it was not aligned to state standards, guess what?  It did not meet the federal requirements.


So now we get to this letter dated June 30th sent to our state school superintendent.  It reiterates the fact that the Geogia Alternate Assessment (GAA) does not meet federal requirements and, more serious, puts limitations on the grant awards from the federal government.  Mandatory Oversight” is the term they used.  The smell of the hot asphalt we smelled in downtown Atlanta in June was actually the smell of skid marks left by a very motivated Education Department as they knew they had to get on the stick with this.


To be fair, the Georgia Dept. of Ed. was in front of this by a fair bit.  They had already sent a couple of teachers out and about around the state to talk about aligning IEP objectives to state standards.  Notice that word “alignment” again.  They knew this was an issue and were working towards addressing it.  However the brave pair of teachers who went out giving these workshops did not know what the GAA was going to look like, as of last spring.  Their understanding seemed to be that there might be a phase-in or that there would be a mixture of aligned objectives and daily living skills objectives.  But this was not the case at all.  I’m sure they were as mortified as the rest of us when they saw that the IEP didn’t enter into the GAA at all!


This is why the state website has all sorts of ideas for students with severe disabilities, but at the high school level you’ll notice that they don’t focus on the 11th grade standards which is THE grade that determines AYP.  In fact, I think there might be ONE example.  That’s because they thought they would have more time to implement this process.  When that letter came in June, time had run out.  With several schools starting at the end of July, there was no time to spend doing a lot of discussion, debating or collaborating.  They needed to get manuals printed, training materials together and get this show literally on the road ASAP.  As it is, we only went through our training a little over a month ago.  So this is a RUSH job, folks.  Make no mistake.


Okay, now that I got that out, I feel better.  To be fair, I am connecting a fair number of dots, here, between various sources.  There may be some mistakes and I’ll gladly correct them if they are pointed out. 



4 Responses to “GAA Backstory”

  1. DougK December 1, 2006 at 5:07 pm #

    I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to read someone who can communicate this material with such clarity.
    There are so many things that don’t make sense in NCLB, starting first of all with the difficulty of measurement, which you have clearly described. Oy vey! And then there’s the money that Questar and co. are going to be making (I’m not against people making money, but they should do good work for the amount of money they’re earning). And THEN there’s the fact that IDEA is subservient to NCLB, and thus the IEP doesn’t even enter the picture any more. I don’t think I’ll ever understand how that isn’t discriminatory.
    Thank you again for this excellent blog.

  2. very frustrated January 25, 2007 at 5:10 pm #

    I am a middle school Moid teacher (6-8) sitting neck deep in this crap. In middle school, all grades have to be assessed. I teach all grades/subjects and have 9 of these moronic GAA’s to do. I have just logged the 100th hour on this and have done NO TEACHING since before christmas because the turn in date is closely approaching. Someone did not think the sheer manpower hours in assembling this dog and pony show. Why couldn’t Georgia fufill this requirement like Utah, New York, even Tenn? They used an alternative achievement method that made sense. But as usual, Georgia is on the cheap. What a joke. This makes me want to leave special ed. I am now HQ and have taken every Praxis test they’ve thrown out. Are they trying to make us all quit?

  3. Dick January 26, 2007 at 8:07 am #

    I SO feel your pain!

    And I have not yet published the unkindest cut of all. In short, it will make every special ed teacher who is doing this in the state want to quit.

    The only advantage I could possibly see in doing ALL of them, is that you might be able to sort of herd them through in pairs or small groups. And the administration won’t be saddling you with someone from a totally different caseload like mine did. But the paperwork! OMG! It is 10x more intense than an IEP!

    Hang in there.


  4. HE June 19, 2007 at 4:52 pm #


    Has anyone heard what the tests results from the GAA will be published?

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