For the fourth year in a row, Georgia students are seeing improvement on their standardized test scores, data released Thursday show.
The numbers released by the Georgia Department of Education show that third- to eighth-grade students improved in almost every subject area of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests that measure progress in math, reading, English language arts, science and social studies.
John Barge, superintendent for Georgia schools, said he was pleased.
“Our teachers are continuing to do a very good job with much more rigorous standards,” he said at a press conference.
The greatest gains were in fifth-grade social studies, which increased to 77 percent passing this year, up from 71 percent in 2011. Eighth-grade science also saw a big jump to 74 percent, compared with 67 percent last year.
While modest, the biggest overall dip was in mathematics. Fourth-graders passing went down from 81 percent last year to 80 percent this year, while eighth-graders went from 78 percent passing to 77 percent. Fifth-graders passing went down from 87 percent to 84 percent.
Gainesville City Schools’ superintendent Merrianne Dyer said her system’s scores mirror the state’s.
“Our improvements really reflected the state’s report as well,” said Dyer. “We had more students exceeding standards in all subject areas in all grades than we ever have.”
Hall County Schools leaders say their scores will be on par with those from last year.
“You get to a point with the criterion referenced test where you just don’t see a whole lot of movement from year to year,” said Will Schofield, Hall superintendent. “With having fewer days of school and 100 fewer teachers than we did four years ago, I just don’t think it’s realistic to think, in Hall County, scores will jump a lot. I’ll be very satisfied in the current economic times and the way we’re operating schools if we can just kind of hold our own and I think that’s about what we’ve done.”
Official system and school numbers will be released in a few weeks.
Barge said he’s satisfied that the dip in the math pass rate was minimal. Department officials will look over the scores to determine if one particular district is to blame, he said. They plan to provide educational training and professional development where needed.
Nearly 27,000 Georgia eighth-graders, about 23 percent, didn’t pass the math CRCT this year. That’s about half of what it was four years ago, when 50,000 eighth-graders — 40 percent — did not pass. This year, about 20,000 fifth-graders fell below standards; about 16 percent didn’t pass the math CRCT compared to 13 percent in 2011.
State law mandates that fifth- and eighth-graders must pass both the reading and math tests to move to the next grade. Third-graders must pass the reading CRCT. Students who fail twice have the option of appealing to school-based committees.
The scores are a part of what Georgia uses to calculate school progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law. This year, the state received a waiver from the highly criticized law, allowing Georgia to add more indicators into the formula it uses to judge whether schools are improving.
Those indicators include ACT, SAT and Advanced Placement tests, as well as attendance and end-of-course test data.
The waiver exempts public schools in Georgia from the requirement that all students must perform at grade level in math and reading by 2014, a goal that critics say was unrealistic from the onset.
“One of the unintended consequences of No Child Left Behind is that we put all the emphasis on passing a single test,” Barge said. “Now under the new index we are taking into account the full scope of work teachers are doing to prepare students.”
Being free from the hefty regulation is a step in the right direction, said Tim Callahan, spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, which has 81,000 members. Callahan said it’s nice that test scores are up, but he said report cards can sometimes be distracting.
“We’ve been badly using tests under the umbrella of No Child Left Behind,” Callahan said. “I think we’re coming to a period where we’ve been too concerned with test scores and not concerned enough with the overall education students are receiving.”
The CRCT has been carefully monitored by state officials after an investigation last year revealed widespread cheating by nearly 180 educators in Atlanta schools dating to 2001. The investigation has led to criminal probes in multiple counties and some educators losing their teaching licenses. However, Barge said he is confident the cheating problem has been resolved.
“Can I say without a shadow of a doubt that there was not one teacher out there who wasn’t the most honest? No, I can’t say that,” Barge said. “But I think we have corrected the most egregious errors with the cheating scandal.”