By Kami Chambers
The Eatonton Messenger
September 26, 2019

 Putnam County Charter School System began its 2019-20 school year under a new vision to assess how well its students are learning.

Parents and teachers often hear about the struggles children have with testing. Understanding that every child is different and learns differently, it makes sense. Now, as technology opens up opportunities for more innovative ideas, educators might have found a solution to that problem.

A new system of testing is being introduced called Navvy. The Navvy assessment system was developed by Laine Bradshaw, a professor at the University of Georgia in Quantitative Methodology. Its architecture and methods are supported by her research at UGA and is designed for use during a state led pilot program.

According to the Georgia Department of Education, throughout this Innovative Assessment Demonstration (IADA) period, the state will oversee the innovative assessment pilot program while three approved districts/consortia – Putnam Consortium, Cobb County School District and Georgia MAP Assessment Partnership – take the lead in developing and implementing assessment solutions.

“The assessment systems being developed by these districts/ consortia are being designed to maximize instructional time, provide immediate feedbacks to inform instruction and prepare students for the next grade, course, college or career,” GaDOE stated in a December 2018 application for federal assistance.

Bradshaw told The Eatonton Messenger that she has been collaborating with Putnam County Charter School System Superintendent Eric Arena and other district leaders on the design of the Navvy system since its beginning.

She noted that, since then, she has successfully involved 18 school districts that are now using the new system and are working together on its design.

“Navvy is an integral tool for teaching and learning that helps provide a personalized education for every student,” Bradshaw said. According to the GaDOE, since the 2014-15 school year, students in Georgia took a standardized test called Milestones to assess academic achievement.

Before that, elementary and middle school students took CRCTs in five core subjects along with separate writing assessments. High school students sat for end of course tests after taking certain courses and were also required to pass the Georgia High School Writing Test to graduate.

In a Putnam County Board of Education meeting held shortly before the beginning of the school year, Arena announced that, until educators determine if Navvy will be a success, PCCSS students will continue to be assessed under the Milestones program simultaneously with the new system.

Milestones are a summative assessment program that measures how well students have learned the state-adopted content standards in English, language arts, mathematics, science and social studies.

The Milestones test is administered at the completion of the course and counts as 20% of the student’s final grade.

Many educators saw a problem in this method of testing, leading to the creation of the Navvy system and its implementation.

So, what is this new system and how does it compare with the Milestones that has become known to students as final exams? According BOE Chairman Dr. Steve Weiner, instead of exams that come at the end of the year and are based on having mastered certain standards like the Milestones have done, Navvy is breaking Milestones down to the standards. He noted that these tests can be done any time during the school year so educators will not have to wait until the end of the academic term. Navvy provides on-demand assessments that are given throughout the school year as determined by the school districts.

“That does wondrous things, as far as the education system goes,” Weiner said. “Teachers know right away what their kids know and don’t know as opposed to the Milestones results, which have historically come back anywhere from three months to three years after the test was taken, depending on which changes the state DOE made. You couldn’t compare that year’s result with the past year. As indicators, it’s useless information.”

The new system could be an asset to teachers’ careers. Weiner noted that, under Georgia law, teaching licenses can be revoked if students do too poorly for too many years in a row.

He advised that the Navvy system will allow the school to do several different things; one of them being, if a teacher who seems to be doing a satisfactory job teaching some standards and another teacher who does not, they can swap classes for standards or get the other one to train the other.

Navvy is designed to give detailed feedback about students’ understanding of specific standards, or learning targets, by using novel data science advanced through Bradshaw’s research at UGA.

“This new method has results in real-time so that the feedback can be used immediately by teachers to personalize instruction to fit students’ individual needs,” Bradshaw said.

The Navvy system allows multiple opportunities to demonstrate comprehension of each standard, giving students numerous chances to succeed. The system is designed to allow schools to focus all 180 days on teaching and learning, using Navvy for feedback to guide instruction along the way.

“By eliminating the Georgia Milestones, I think we could gain something like 30 days of instruction out of a 180-day yield,” Weiner said.