HUNT COLUMN: Educational Alphabet Soup

Published 4:36 pm Tuesday, April 9, 2024

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By Cathy Hunt
Retired Troup County teacher and current school board member

The GMAS is coming! The GMAS (gee-mass) is coming! Now that Spring Break is a happy memory, students and teachers are facing the mounting pressure (albeit a pressure that has been there all year long) to be good and ready for the Georgia Milestones Assessment System tests at the end of April and beginning of May. End-of-grade tests will be given in core subjects from third through eighth grades, and end-of-course tests are looming for high schoolers taking American Lit, U.S. History, Algebra, and Biology. The stakes are high for every school and system’s reputation, although the intense emphasis on standardized testing is and ever shall be hotly debated.

Where I’m really going with this column though is the mindboggling collection of educational acronyms, a language in which educators must be fluent or be lost, GMAS being just one example. Many times in board meetings, one of us will stop a presenter to say once again, “Please remind us what that [jumble of letters] stands for.” 

Many important acronyms nowadays have to do with students’ rights and special needs. These rights are broadly covered under FERPA (Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act) and IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). Getting more specific, we utilize IEP’s (Individualized Education Plans) and RTI (the Response to Intervention framework to assess needs and provide support to struggling students).

Schools today focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) instruction and even STEAM instruction (same words but with Arts thrown in for good measure). But CTAE (Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education pathways) has been around for quite a while. We must provide ESOL instructors (English for Speakers of Other Languages) — and you’d probably be surprised at the number and variety of ESOL students that we have in our system. We have ASL (American Sign Language) professionals working one on one all day every day with hearing impaired students. 

Other assistance for our students’ positive development comes through PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports) and SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) services – mental health challenges being a huge problem for too many of today’s youth.

I’m barely scratching the surface here, and not including any of the non-acronym terminology (504’s, Title I and IX and all the other Titles, 1:1) or non-abbreviated language (formative, summative, and authentic assessments — what used to simply be called tests). Every one of the items mentioned, and all the others (a great many federally or state mandated), necessitates extra work and extra personnel to make sure we extend every right, service, and opportunity to the children who come our way.

Public education is a thousand times more complicated than it was back in the dark ages when I started teaching. We had self-contained special education classrooms for the small number of students who couldn’t function in a regular classroom. I never had to provide special accommodations for students with mild disabilities. When the rare exchange or immigrant student enrolled, they came with enough English to get by and their teachers helped as best they could. 

The only acronym that struck fear into new teachers’ hearts was TPAI (Teacher Performance Assessment Instrument), a rigorous fall and spring evaluation that first year teachers had to pass to be invited back for a second year – and a now obsolete acronym which I’ll never forget.

But let me be clear: I don’t have any use for those who claim to be old school and pine for the “good old days” in public education. Education has gotten more complicated in direct proportion to societal difficulties. To successfully educate all children, we must adapt accordingly.  It is more and more challenging. So please encourage, appreciate, and support our hard-working educators. Send good vibes because GMAS is coming!