The Oconee County Board of Education members, in keeping with policy, did not respond last month when Joyce Reifsteck, 1141 Thornwell Drive, north of Watkinsville, asked them to address her concerns about the burden placed on teachers by testing in the county’s schools.
“I don’t have to tell you about constant preparation and testing, and the tedious attention that is paid to the Georgia Standards of Excellence, formerly called Common Core,” Reifsteck said.
Oconee County School Superintendent Jason Branch had raised just those concerns back in December of 2015 in a prelegislative session with Oconee County’s delegation to the General Assembly.
Sen. Bill Cowsert, who was at that session, sponsored legislation the following February that, when signed by Gov. Nathan Deal, decreased the dependence on test scores in teacher assessments, eliminated some testing, and moved some testing to the end of the school year.
Board of Education Chair Tom Odom said before Reifsteck spoke that “generally, there will be no response to comments or questions posed by citizens at this meeting,” and neither Branch nor any member of the Board mentioned Cowsert’s legislation or Branch’s role in shaping it.
“I don’t need to recite a bunch of statistics to you about kids,” Reifsteck told the Board at its Sept. 17 meeting.
“You were all kids before. You know, first hand, what it’s like to be a kid.
“You know first-hand what its like to go outside and play at recess.
“You know how important it is for kids to go outside, burn off some energy, get some fresh air, and just be able to act like kids for a little while during an unstructured part of a very structured day."
Reifsteck said reliance on the state standards “creates undue, unnecessary stress for all our children, especially those with learning disabilities.
“The focus on constant testing often leads to isolation and embarrassment for children with learning disabilities, and a lack of recess may have more of an impact on these kids than any other kids,” she said.
Reifsteck said adhering to the state standards “because we’re beholden to those who control our money is a bad idea.”
“You have the power to release Oconee County schoolchildren and teachers from the grips of this ineffective system,” she said.
“While parents, as individuals, can contact our lawmakers, you know that as a Board of Education, your words and actions carry far more weight than ours do,” Reifsteck said.
“You know you have the ability to reduce and even eliminate the superfluous, stressful, needless standards testing that is replacing real education in Oconee County,” Reifsteck told the Board, “and you know you have the common sense and the courage to do so.”
The Board of Education allows citizen comment at its regular meetings, though not at its work sessions.
Reifsteck had scheduled her comments in advance, so she was allowed five minutes to speak.
“All comments and questions will be received and taken under advisement by the Board,” Board Chair Tom Odom told Reifsteck, reading from a policy statement.
“When appropriate, response will be made by the superintendent or a member of the Board at or before the next regular session,” Odom said. “However, any member of the Board shall be free to respond and make public comments if he or she elects to do so.”
No one responded to Reifsteck.
Branch 2015 Comments
At the prelegislative on Dec. 21, 2015, Superintendent Branch told the legislators he hoped the state will relieve local schools of some of the required standardized tests.
Branch said the state-mandated Student Learning Objective Assessments took 15 days away from instruction at the high school level alone.
As the legislators look at school issues, Branch said, he hoped they would look at ways to “return some of that instructional time to the schools.”
The legislators were receptive to the request but said they were cautious of getting too involved in the day-to-day management of schools.
Cowsert introduced his bill, cosponsored with five others, on Feb. 10, 2016.
Some of the provisions of the bill were effective on July 1, 2016, and others were delayed until the 2017-2018 academic year.
“Oconee County Schools is very pleased to have been an advocate dating back to 2014 for reducing the number of state-mandated tests to be closer in alignment with the requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act,” Anisa Sullivan Jimenez, director of Communications with Oconee County Schools, told me in an email message on Sept. 20.
Every Student Succeeds Act is a federal law passed in 2015.
Through Senate Bill 364, Jimenez said, Oconee County Schools were able to eliminate 36,000 Student Learning Objectives assessments in 2016.
“This recaptured 40,700 hours of lost instructional time for students, which was the equivalent of 5.5 more hours of instruction per student per year at that time,” she said.
The bill reduced state-mandated tests from 32 to 24, Jimenez said, and for Oconee County this was a reduction on average of from 7.3 to 2.4 tests per student.
The bill eliminated Student Learnig Objectives statewide “and we are proud to have played a role,” Jimenez said.
The video below is of the Board of Education meeting of Sept. 17, 2018.
Board Chair Odom called for citizen comment at 23:35 in the video, and Reifsteck began speaking at 24:51.