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Column: GA School Chief touts test reduction, Common Core removal, student opportunities

COLUMN – State School Superintendent Richard woods looks to reduce testing, remove Common Core, and increase student opportunities in Georgia if re-elected in November.

This guest column was written by Georgia State School Superintendent Richard Woods (R-Tifton) who is seeking re-election in November. Woods was elected as Georgia’s State School Superintendent in 2014 and seeks a second term. Woods is a former educator of 22 years and former small business owner. This column was published unedited. These are the views of the author and not those of AllOnGeorgia. 

It has been an honor to serve as your state school superintendent for the past four years. I campaigned four years ago on a platform of bringing the word “child” and common sense back into education.

My platform and record have been extremely consistent: less testing and more teaching, scaling back Washington overreach, elevating the teaching profession, expanding opportunities, and ensuring a balanced education system that prepares our students for life.

In the area of testing, my opponent has touted the endorsement of Arne Duncan and has personally endorsed the use of national assessments. In contrast, I have led the charge for the largest decrease in high-stakes testing in Georgia’s history. Working together, we’ve seen the state requirement for SLOs eliminated and the elimination of eight Milestones assessments. I have continued to seek out ways to reduce high-stakes testing in State Board rule, recommending and getting the approval to eliminate double-testing for high school and middle school students who take advance coursework or participate in dual enrollment. This past session, I worked with the General Assembly to pass legislation to establish an Innovative Assessment Pilot, which will provide us a path to create assessments that are less intrusive, provide more immediate feedback, and are rooted in instruction rather than accountability.

In my second term, I commit to pursuing the further reduction of the number of high-stakes tests to bring us in line with the federal minimum, supporting district innovation and flexiblity in the area of testing, developing and delivering diagnostic tools for educators, and creating an assessment system that truly informs teaching and learning.

I have been consistent in my stance against Common Core and pushback against Washington overreach whereas my opponent has called Common Core ‘exceptional’ and starred in a promotional video for the standards. Since the onset, I’ve had concerns over Georgia being coerced to adopt Common Core standards as part of a federal grant, the lack of Georgia teachers’ and parents’ involvement in the standards development process, and the standards’ lack of age and developmental appropriateness. I opposed the State Board’s unilateral decision to simply rename the standards “Georgia Standards of Excellence” despite the fact that they merely underwent cosmetic changes. During my tenure, I ensured the social studies and science standards revisions were Georgia owned and grown despite there being a possibility for a Common Core-like adoption of national standards in these content areas.

In my second term, I commit to full revision of the English Language Arts and mathematics standards. These standards will be developed through an open and transparent process that engages Georgia’s parents, teachers, and students from across the state. With a new Governor and the standards set to come up as part of the normal adoption cycle, I plan to seize on the opportunity to finally ensure our state pursues common sense over common core.

A decade ago, my opponent embraced the education fad that every child must attend a four year college. I think that move was a big mistake. Business and industry throughout our state have been dealing with a drastic shortage of workers with technical skills.

Since taking office, I have pushed for a more balanced education for our kids. These efforts to strengthen technical opportunities in our schools have led to over 35,000 students earning industry credentials, 20,000 students participating in work-based learning/apprenticeship programs, and a 96% graduation rate for students who complete a career pathway. We’ve worked with local districts and business to develop custom high-growth career pathways in areas like film, cyber security, granite technology, industrial maintenance, and computer science. We’ve provided millions in FastTrack grants to jumpstart the outfitting of high-school labs in high demand career fields. I brought on an Economic Development liaison – the first of its kind in the nation for a Department of Education – and worked with industry to create an economic development partnership designation for our districts and schools.

Furthering opportunities, we have established diploma seals in the areas of fine arts, international skills, employability skills, leadership skills, and career readiness for our high-school students. Instead of limiting students by only preparing them for a four year college, we are preparing students for multiple paths of success – for college, technical school, military, or to go straight into the workforce. We are preparing them for life.

With increased outcomes — rising graduation rates, ACT, SAT, AP, and reading scores – coupled with expanded opportunities for students – arts, STEM, STEAM, career technical education, ag, and computer science — Georgia is on the move and heading in the right direction. These outcomes are a testament to the hard work of our teachers and students.

Unlike my opponent, who has a consistent record of following the feds – by promoting Common Core, touting Arne Duncan, supporting Obama school lunch changes, and endorsing national assessments — I have worked with students, parents, educators, and community members to lay out a positive vision for education in our state — a vision molded by Georgians, not rooted in the federal requirements of No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top. We are charting our own course in education and yielding results because of the level of engagement, collaboration, and buy-in from all Georgians and all of Georgia.

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