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State CRCT results gloomy

Nearly half of eighth graders failed math portion

POSTED: June 1, 2008 5:01 a.m.

A preliminary snapshot of this year’s Georgia’s state exam results are depicting a disappointing picture for local schools, and have left teachers, parents and students on pins and needles waiting for official results and the finger pointing that is sure to follow.

Although Hall County Schools have yet to receive official results from this year’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, the state Department of Education reports that nearly half of Georgia eighth graders failed the math portion of the test that they needed to pass to move on to the ninth grade.

A statement issued by the state Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox says 60 percent of Georgia eighth graders passed the state exam, and Hall County Schools Superintendent said numbers for his system — and other systems across the state — are showing similar dips in pass rates.

Fifth graders and eighth graders are required to pass the reading and math portions of the test to move on in their scholastic journeys, and the failure rate means 40 percent of Georgia eighth graders could spend part of their summer vacation in school.

Shelley Buffington, a teacher and a parent in the Gainesville City Schools System, admits the results are scary to both teachers and parents.

"It’s a double-edged sword as a teacher and a parent," she said. "It’s scary to hear. What is failing? Is it the schools or is it the tests?"

The significantly lower scores coincide with the state’s transition to the Georgia Performance Standards test for those grade levels, Hall Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said.

"They’re much more difficult tests than they’ve been in the past," he said. "And at the same time, the state is requiring that students answer more items correct than they have in the past."

"You put those two factors together, and it shouldn’t surprise anybody that the results are going to drop precipitously all across the state," Schofield said.

Schofield said state officials had an opportunity to adjust the cut score, or the amount of questions that students had to answer correctly to receive a passing grade, to help mitigate the shock of taking a new test on a new curriculum, but did not. In fact, the state decided to raise that requirement.

Monday afternoon, the state board of education invited all its school districts to participate in a conference call with Cox, "based on the outrage that districts were expressing over the results on the new Georgia Performance Standards tests that came back," Schofield said.

White County Schools Superintendent Paul Shaw agrees with Schofield that the dips in student scores come with the new curriculum and the new testing requirements, but he has faith that White County students will eventually adjust and test scores will bounce back. Until then, Shaw says his school system will take a "hard look" at how to make that adjustment.

"Eventually, we’ll adjust, but I just think that sometimes it takes a little more time to do the drastic things," Shaw said. "It’s kind of like if somebody tells you to run the mile in six minutes, you know, some would have to do very little work and others would have to do a whole heck of a lot of work to get it done."

Schofield has reason to believe the problem lies not with the students’ learning, but with the assessment of their learning. He said the same group of Hall County students who fared poorly on the math portion of the CRCT — third, fifth and eighth graders — actually improved their scores on the math portion of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills by 4.25 percent this year.

"So one has to start asking the question ...‘Why are we showing solid gains on a nationally normed test with decades of reliability behind it and then at the same time showing these significant drops in CRCT math scores at those grade levels?’ Schofield said. "That will be a question people will have to answer for themselves."

Still, the reports, though preliminary, are disconcerting to parents, who are faced with the possibility of having to send their students to summer school as schools are scrambling to figure out how to pay for remediation courses.

Cox promises money will soon be available to help schools with the costs of summer schools, but parents and students are still in the dark, as Hall County scores are not yet official and some of their summer plans hang in purgatory.

"Outcomes can mean many different things, of course, if you’re in third and fifth grade. Unfortunately kids do hear ‘if you don’t do well on this test, you could possibly be retained," Buffington said. "That’s a lot of pressure to put on a youngster, you know an 8, 9-year-old or a 10, 11-year-old. That’s a lot of pressure."

This year’s results make Buffington question if one test should determine whether or not a student moves forward in school. She does not necessarily agree that the test results automatically mean every student who failed the test should end up in summer school.

"It’s a shame that one test could determine that," she said. "I personally know of children who do fine academically throughout the school year, A’s and B’s, and get to this test and don’t do well."

White County Schools Superintendent Paul Shaw agrees partly with Buffington, but says his school system will strongly encourage those who failed to attend summer school and retake the exam. He said the school system is already preparing to provide summer school and transportation to the students who need it, and Shaw does not seem concerned with the costs.

"We’re just going to deal with it. We think it’s important," Shaw said. "It’s kind of like if your car breaks down, and you’ve got to get to work you’re going to find a way to do it."

White County students who did not pass and refuse to retest will likely be held back, but Shaw promises to look at students on a "case-by-case" basis. However, he said there would need to be an unanimous decision by a committee to allow the student to advance.

Calls to Assistant Superintendent David Shumake and Superintendent Dr. Steven Ballowe of Gainesville Schools were not returned Tuesday.

Buffington said that at this point, her school, Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy, only knows who failed the test. And she is grateful that Enota’s list of failing students is shorter than expected.

Still, she is concerned that students and entire school systems are judged on these scores alone.

That, too, is Schofield’s concern.

"Ultimately, we should be concerned that there will likely be an additional loss of public confidence in our schools, further erosion of the state’s ability to attract and retain high tech and bio-science industry, continuing demoralization of our teachers and most importantly, yet another short sighted solution for the boys and girls we serve," Schofield wrote in an e-mail to The Times.



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