Milestones Results Serve as a Call to Action for Atlanta

In August, the Georgia Department of Education released 2021 Milestones test scores based on assessments administered amid the pandemic in spring 2021. As predicted in the report we commissioned with Learn4Life, the results showed Atlanta Public Schools (APS) students’ progress continued to decline, especially during the pandemic, particularly among students of color and students from low-income households. Even with the caveats of low student participation and limited comparability, these results underscore what we have known to be true for some years now. There must be a greater sense of urgency and a different course of strategic actions to support all APS students.

Overall, APS student proficiency rates show a drop of 1% in ELA and 7% in math1. Still, this statistic is misleading as only 34% of APS students in grades 3-8 participated in GA Milestones testing last year, and less than 20% of APS high school students participated in End-of-Course Georgia Milestones testing2. A more significant picture emerges in reviewing this analysis that examined individual data from students who participated in Milestones testing in both 2019 and 2021. When we compare proficiency levels for the same students pre-pandemic to today, on average, there is a 9% drop in ELA for Black students and an even more significant 18% drop in math1. We see a similar magnitude of learning loss for students experiencing poverty, with a 9% drop in ELA proficiency and a 16% drop in math proficiency

After reviewing this year’s scores, I immediately thought of our August 2019 blog, A bolder path forward: Reflections on accelerating Milestones progress. In 2019, the English Language Arts (ELA) proficiency rate was below 40%, and the proficiency gap between Black and white students was 58.8%. We now know the pandemic’s impact on student learning offsets their progress. It also sparked a renewed commitment from education stakeholders to support the district in its mission to make sure every student will graduate ready for college, career, and life.

So, what do we know?

  • We know the decline in proficiency rates does not include scores for students who opted out of taking the milestones in 2020 due to the pandemic. 
  • We know that when comparing the test-taking population from the previous test (2019) to the recent test (2021), you are comparing two very different populations.
    • The makeup of test-takers in 2021—56 percent Black, 30 percent white—was also very different from that of test-takers in 2019—74 percent Black, 15 percent white.1
    • In 2021, only 34 percent of students in grades 3-8 took the End-of-Grade assessment, and less than 20 percent of high school students took the End-of-Course assessment.2
  • We know that even if more students took the test, we’d still have no way of knowing if the scores would be higher and that we can’t effectively compare 2019 and 2021 data.

With what we know, I’m inclined to agree with DOE Deputy Superintendent Allison Timberlake, “If we did have everyone test, my hypothesis would not be that the scores would be higher. I think they would be a little lower.”  

Now – where do we go from here?

To address the pandemic’s adverse impact on student learning, in her blog post announcing the results, APS’ Superintendent Herring referenced the three-year, three-part APS Academic Recovery Plan. The three parts are:

  1. Identifying academic challenges and opportunities,
  2. Mitigating learning loss through an expanded summer program, and
  3. Requiring intervention classes at all schools 

Some of these promising ideas were implemented before, notably expanded summer programming. With the limited impact of past approaches and the prevailing challenges presented by the pandemic, there is still a need for urgent and compassionate action. We know it will take years to recover, and our goal needs to be larger than simply reversing the pandemic learning loss. Pre-pandemic, we had some of the most significant opportunity gaps in the country. We need to look beyond recovery and forge a path forward to rethink, redesign, and reshape what teaching and learning in schools can be for our Black and Brown children. What we had before hasn’t worked and was not designed to work in the first place. 

Our team at redefinED atlanta works to support and build momentum for progress in K-12 public education so that Atlanta is a place where every student has opportunities, well-being, and self-determination through access to a great K-12 public education. Though the data regarding APS students’ ability to read and write on grade level is less than perfect, it further reveals the urgency elevated by the release of United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Child-Well Being Index in 2017, and the mandate to ask, “How are the children?” Again, it calls us to check in about where we are in our journey to build the beloved community that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. defined for us more than 60 years ago.

Over the next four years, redefinED atlanta pledges to grow more advocates for positive change in K-12 public education and work in and with the community to advocate for equity. To learn more about our commitments to the Atlanta community, sign-up to receive our upcoming publication, ARISE: Our Roadmap to 2025. Already a subscriber? You’ll receive notice when the report is published.

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SKIP Georgia Supports Students to and through Graduation

SKIP Georgia scholars after a day participating in an Environmental Ecosystem program.

Students’ first year of high school is critically important. How often 9th-grade students attend school and how well they do in school has an outsize impact on whether they will eventually graduate. 

So it did not bode well when Malik Gore started skipping class as a freshman at a high school in South Atlanta. 

“I got caught up in the drama, and it really took a toll on me,” he said. 

Malik ended up at Phoenix Academy, a second-chance school on the Crim open campus in East Atlanta. That’s where he encountered a system of support that has helped put him on the verge of graduating from high school this spring. 

Key to Malik’s success has been the Phoenix Academy staff and the programming of, the local chapter of the Save Kids of Incarcerated Parents program. During the 2020-21 school year, SKIP Georgia received a grant from the redefinED atlanta Innovation Fund to support counseling sessions it offers students at five Atlanta schools, including Phoenix Academy. The sessions run from 5:00-7:00 p.m. and offer students an opportunity to decompress, participate in trauma-informed care, and connect with peers. 

Most of the participating students are high school seniors, and much of the recent discussion in the counseling sessions has been about navigating this momentous time educationally, in the midst of a pandemic. SKIP Georgia has provided additional support to the students through grants from the United Way of Greater Atlanta* and Dollar General Literacy Foundation as well as additional programming like a Sunday Brunch & Munch where older students mentor younger students. 

The system is working. 

Nikaya Winfrey graduated high school with the support of the Phoenix Academy-SKIP Georgia partnership and is now a student at Atlanta Technical College, preparing to become a dental hygienist. 

“I have reached so many things I didn’t even think were possible,” she said. 

Both Nikaya and Malik credit Phoenix Academy staff members like Theresa Mullins, who is the school’s site coordinator for SKIP Georgia. 

“I’m responsible for their needs getting met, not just academics but wraparound services,” Mullins said. “We do the social and emotional, we do the mental health, we do food services, emergency funding, going to college, trying to place them in the best way possible.”

Because of the support that he received from Phoenix Academy and SKIP Georgia, Malik has fully recovered from his rocky start to high school. This summer, he is scheduled to take classes at Morehouse College.

Looking back, Malik says, “It was a minor setback for a major comeback.”

* redefinED atlanta is also a proud partner of the United Way of Greater Atlanta and receives support as a Child Well-Being Impact Fund “Strong Learners” grantee for their work advancing parent advocacy in public schools.



RedefinED Atlanta works to help Atlanta Public Schools through the pandemic

RedefinEd Atlanta has been working to improve Atlanta’s public school education since 2016, and when the coronavirus pandemic hit last year, the folks at RedefinEd Atlanta knew that they could help students that were affected.

“In response to COVID-19, RedefinEd Atlanta doubled down its efforts to provide resources to parents and communities with students attending Atlanta’s public schools, as well as to individual schools in the district,” said Adah Pittman-Delancey, the vice president of impact and external relations at RedefinEd Atlanta.

In the summer of 2020, RedefinEd Atlanta was able to give funds to two parent-led organizations, Atlanta Thrive and the Latino Association for Parents of Public Schools, to launch a $100,000 relief effort to support parents and caregivers of Atlanta Public Schools students experiencing hardship due to the pandemic.

“Atlanta Public Schools has one of the largest racial achievement gaps in the country,” said Pittman-Delancey. “Creating access to a great public education can provide Black and brown students living in under-resourced communities with the opportunity to realize their full potential and pursue their passions, changing the trajectory of their lives. We know that systemic racial inequities, which the pandemic exacerbated and exposed, are significant barriers to a thriving Atlanta.”

Also in the summer of 2020 RedefinEd Atlanta and Learn4Life commissioned a new study quantifying the impact of school closures on metro Atlanta student proficiency. The report estimated the potential student learning loss that eight metro Atlanta public school districts would likely encounter when they returned to school in the fall. In October, it launched the RedefinED Innovation Fund: Pandemic Education & Restart, giving nearly $170,000 in grants to 10 nonprofits and 14 Atlanta schools to address immediate education-related needs created by the pandemic.

Who’s helping?

RedefinEd Atlanta

Services: RedefinEd Atlanta works towards the vision of transforming Atlanta into a place where every student in every community receives a great public school education. To do this they engage with other nonprofits and raise funds to aid the community.

If you are involved in or know of an organization working to bring relief to the Atlanta community during the coronavirus pandemic OR you are with an organization with supplies that you don’t know where to donate, please email us at [email protected].

Where to donate: Visit



Smaller Learning Groups, Bigger Gains for Ethos Classical Charter School

Ever since Ethos Classical Charter School opened in South Atlanta in 2019, small-group instruction with two teachers per classroom has been a hallmark of its learning model. 

So when the pandemic hit, the literacy and arts-focused elementary school readied itself to create even smaller learning groups to meet safety requirements for students and staff. 

“But in order to have more in-person learning instruction through smaller learning groups, we needed more adults,” explained Emily Castillo León, Head of School and founder of Ethos Classical. “Hiring more educators during a pandemic was quite the challenge. We needed talented candidates and funding for the additional salaries, quickly.”

Thanks in part to a grant from the redefinED atlanta Innovation Fund, Castillo León was able to solve her school’s biggest challenge during the pandemic—creating safe in-person instruction. 

“We were able to tap into a new talent pipeline thanks to redefinED, and we were able to hire four full-time, on-site learning leaders, which enabled us to bring students back in-person,” Castillo León explained.

In addition to being able to offer in-person learning to more students, hiring new educators mid-year gave Ethos Classical a jumpstart on hiring for the 2021-22 school year, which is a necessity as the school grows by one grade per year.

Among the new teachers hired is Josalyn Jones, a recent college graduate with a degree in child developmental psychology. Jones joined Ethos Classical during the pandemic and was hired to stay on for next school year. She’ll also be able to pursue her Master of Arts in Teaching degree through Ethos Classical’s partnership with the RELAY Graduate School of Education’s teacher residency program. 

“I have never felt so in place and welcomed in my life,” she said. “My journey has led me on the path to a great school where I know my skills as an educator will increase and flourish.”

Learn more about Ethos Classical at

Follow the school: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram 


Ethos students patiently waiting to have their class picture taken below a “RESPECT” reminder. Throughout the school, walls feature similar positive messages, affirmations and artwork.
Ethos Principal Emily Castillo Leon showing students how figs look before they ripen.
Ethos Principal Emily Castillo Leon Checking Plants in the Garden with Students
Students and Castillo Leon checking on the progress of recently planted tomatoes, collard greens and other veggies in the school’s courtyard garden.





Summer School or Summer Break?

In webinars and Zoom panels about the pandemic’s toll on learning, education experts talk about the need for summer remediation to shore up academic skills compromised by school closings and remote classes.

Yet, many parents are having a different conversation, saying both they and their children are exhausted after a school year like no other. They want their kids sprung from screens, workbooks and math problems so they can visit grandparents, splash in neighborhood pools and ride their bikes.

The Namaste Project works to bring yoga and mindfulness to Atlanta children

“The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on the mind, body and spirit of people all around the world,” said Dr. Kali Arnold, co-founder and director of content development for The Namaste Project, an Atlanta organization that partners with schools and youth organizations to bring meditation, mindfulness and yoga to students and staff.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit last year The Namaste Project was able to make all of its programs available digitally so that it could continue to provide emotional support to the children at its partner schools.

“A mindfulness practice has been shown to help regulate emotions, improve interpersonal relationships, alleviate stress and anxiety and increase focus,” said Danielle Brunson, the co-founder and director of operations at The Namaste Project. “We believe that by providing staff and students a safe space to meditate and/or practice yoga, the school climate will be positively impacted.”

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, The Namaste Project was working in schools to lower behavioral referrals, lower suspension and expulsion rates and increase test scores and student learning using yoga philosophy.

“The benefits gained from practicing mindfulness will have a lasting impact on our students both in and out of the classroom,” said Tiffany Franklin, assistant principal at Beecher Hills Elementary School. “The techniques learned will help them reduce the negative effects of pandemic stress and depression but also improve their ability to stay engaged, avoid behavior problems and increase their understanding of their feelings and emotions.”

Who’s helping?

The Namaste Project

Services: The Namaste Project is an organization that partners with schools and youth organizations to bring meditation, mindfulness and yoga to students and staff.

Where supplies have gone: The Namaste Project works to provide partner schools and organizations’ staff and students with yoga mats and does free community work, such as the training provided to the Latin American Association youth development staff and the free curriculum it provided for the Boy Scouts of America’s Atlanta Chapter.

Where to donate: Email [email protected] to learn how to sponsor a training for a specific youth program or to be connected with a partner program or school to support their needs directly.

How to get involved: Email [email protected] to set up a consultation for your school or organization or to inquire about opportunities to work or volunteer.


redefinED altanta Official Discusses Pandemic’s Effect on School Districts’ Educational Gaps

The leader of a nonprofit, which is working to ensure that every student in Atlanta receives a high-quality education, says hybrid education is challenging. He’s hopeful that students will return to classrooms for in-person instruction in the fall.

“The silver lining here is that the vaccine is being distributed and folks are eligible who work in education,” said Ed Chang, executive director of redefinED atlanta.

Click the link to read the article.

December Newsletter — Pushing Forward

Before the new year finally arrives, I’d like to take a moment to share some reflections on 2020.

Across Atlanta and beyond, it has been a traumatic year. COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on people’s health, livelihoods, and education, with Black and brown communities feeling the greatest impact. Amidst that landscape, like many of you, redefinED atlanta has sought to meet this moment, even as members of our team grappled with working remotely, taking care of our children, and looking after our loved ones. Looking back, I am proud of the work we led to support students, families, and communities across the city.

Read more to see some of our accomplishments:


Scores from national school test reveal pandemic’s effect

Teachers and students will have extra homework after the pandemic ends, as new findings show growth in math scores has fallen since last school year.
Most Georgia students haven’t taken a state-standardized test since 2019, and most will not take another until the spring, if then.
Without those scores on the Milestones tests, it’s unclear how big a toll COVID-19 has had on learning. However, new national scores from an alternative test used by more than 300 Georgia schools show reading more or less intact but math suffering, with the worst performance at the elementary school level.

October Newsletter — Innovation Fund Grants Available

This has been a roller coaster of a school year. Families that desired an in-person option for their students in pre-K through fifth grade anticipated today as the date of reentry. With in-person learning now postponed until January 2021, the city’s education community centers our focus on the overarching priority: ensuring we’re meeting students’ academic and socio-emotional needs.