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
  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.

  1. Source: https://apsinsights.org/2021/08/20/milestones-achievement-2021/
  2. Source: https://talkupaps.com/2021/08/16/ga-milestones-and-getting-students-back-on-track/