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Hundreds more students to attend summer school

POSTED: June 9, 2008 5:00 a.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Zach Holtzclaw, 26, a school bus mechanic from Gainesville, changes a light bulb Wednesday on a Hall County school bus at the Hall County Schools Transportation Department. The buses, which are inspected by the department every 20 days, will soon be on the road serving summer school students.

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Summer school is going to be bustling this year, as, following a statewide trend, the number of Gainesville and Hall County students failing the high-stakes math portion of the state’s basic-skills test more than doubled from last year.

Students in fifth and eighth grades must pass the math portion of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests for a clear path to the next grade.

According to numbers obtained from school officials:

This year, 630 fifth-graders and 740 eighth-graders in the Hall County school system failed the math portion of the test, compared to 332 fifth-graders and 335 eighth-graders last year.

And 147 fifth-graders and 154 eighth-graders in the Gainesville system failed the math portion of the test, compared to 58 fifth-graders and 68 eighth-graders last year.

Nearly 50,000 Georgia eighth-graders, or nearly 40 percent, failed the math part of the CRCT this year, according to preliminary estimates the state released last week.

The state’s unofficial passing rate on the math test was 70.9 percent for third-graders, 71.6 percent for fifth-graders, 62.2 percent for eighth-graders, according to a document sent late Wednesday by the state to superintendents.

Last year, 19 percent of the state’s 126,000 eighth-graders, or roughly 24,000 children, didn’t pass the math test, state data show.

State education officials have said they expected the drop in test scores because eighth-graders were taking a harder test based on a tougher curriculum, the Georgia Performance Standards.

The bottom also fell out on CRCT social studies score for sixth- and seventh-graders — the unofficial passing rate on the social studies tests was 28.5 percent for sixth-graders and 24.3 percent for seventh-graders — but the state is throwing out those results, saying the test didn’t fairly assess what students were taught.

Students don’t need to pass social studies, however, to be promoted.

The state is expected to release detailed data in June.

Summer school is optional although advised, as these students must pass a retest of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests if they want a clear path to the next grade.

Those who fail the retest can still get to the next grade but only after an appeal to the principal.

Higher passing rates in reading this year are taking some pressure off area school systems. Students in third, fifth and eighth grades also must pass that exam for promotion.

In the county system, 240 third-graders, 290 fifth-graders and 190 eighth-graders failed the reading portion this year, compared to 390 third-graders, 393 fifth-graders and 236 eighth-graders last year.

In the city system, 63 third-graders, 47 fifth-graders and 53 eighth-graders failed the reading portion this year, compared to 66 third-graders, 66 fifth-graders and 53 eighth-graders last year.

For parents, the impact may be canceling or rescheduling vacation and summer sports plans.

Tammy Lunsford, who has a rising seventh-grader at East Hall Middle School, didn’t have to worry about high-stakes testing this year. But she said she’ll be prepared when her child reaches eighth grade.

"If that time comes and that happens, I’ll probably raise a stink," she said.

Lunsford added, "I do not think (the state) should base a child’s education on one week of testing, as to whether they should pass or fail. I think they should use it as a tool, but that’s as far as it should go."

The impact on taxpayers may be the need for more teachers and buses. Both systems offer free transportation to summer-school students.

Jewel Armour, executive operations director for Hall schools, said the district plans to run 67 buses filled with about 1,800 students, compared to about 700 students riding about half the number of buses last year.

And diesel fuel costs are running much higher this time than last year. The Hall County Board of Education now is considering increasing its fuel spending for next fiscal year, which starts July 1, to $2.4 million from $1.6 million.

Gerald Boyd, school improvement specialist for Hall schools, said he expects the district will hire more staff for summer school, which is set to begin Monday and end June 20 with retests scheduled for June 19 (math) and June 20 (reading).

But he added that he wouldn’t know exact costs until the end of summer school.

David Shumake, associate superintendent for the Gainesville system, said the district is expected to operate summer school with 22 teachers and 16 paraprofessionals, compared to 18 teachers and 14 paraprofessionals last year, for elementary grades.

The district projects 10 teachers at Gainesville Middle School, compared to eight last year.

Summer school for third- and fifth-graders is set for June 2-27 at Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School and for eighth-graders June 2-27 at the middle school.

Retests are set for June 25-26, with a June 27 makeup day.

Will Schofield, superintendent for the Hall County system, said he is thankful for the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, a standardized test the district administers each year comparing the academic performance of students to a national sample.

On the ITBS, reading and English scores in all grades and math scores in first, second, fifth and eighth grades "appear to have solid gains across the board," he said.

"Does all of this bother me? It should bother us all," Schofield said.

He believes the real storm is coming when the state releases its annual "adequate yearly progress" report in the summer.

"Perhaps hundreds of schools, which appear to have between 35 and 60 percent of their students failing these new (math) assessments, will be added to the ‘not making AYP’ list," Schofield said.

"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 bioscience industry," he added.

Schofield said he also is concerned about "continuing demoralization of our teachers, and most importantly, yet another short-sighted solution for the boys and girls we serve."



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