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Hall County schools find money for student testing
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In the midst of tough budget cuts for schools, the Hall County school board found ways to approve funding for testing and technology.

The Georgia General Assembly eliminated funding for third- and fifth-grade writing tests in May, but the Georgia Department of Education was able to find money to support the tests - perhaps some of the most important standardized tests given in schools, Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said.

"When funding for some tests were cut, the saddest to see go were the writing tests," Schofield told the board Monday. "Students' ability to write is the most successful predictor of their proficiency and future success."

The board approved the fifth-grade writing test to be given March 2 and the third-grade test to be given April 1.

Hall County Schools also was able to strike a deal on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, which is usually administered in second through eighth grades. The standards for the test will change for the 2011-2012 school year, but Schofield decided to move forward for this year and test third, fifth and eighth grades.

"In the past, the state has paid for two of the seven grade levels, but now they're not going to pay for anything," he said.

Riverside Publishing Co., which contracted the tests with the state department, agreed to pay for tests for two grade levels for Hall County.

"This helps us to identify children for the gifted program, and it's our only norm-referenced test," Schofield said. "I'd much rather do away with CRCT tests, but now we've lost our entire argument for wanting ITBS when the norms change and we can't compare apples to apples."

Hall County school officials will find another norm-referenced test, which compares a student's score against other students nationally. The test may include online components, Schofield said, and could coincide with the Common Core State Standards approved by the state school board in early July. Those standards use new requirements for what students should know in each grade on a nationwide level.

"This is bittersweet for me because I always said ITBS is our anchor," Schofield said. "Most districts started dropping the test when funding evaporated, and I said we couldn't afford to not give a test like this. Now it's time to look for another measurement."
The board also approved the use of stimulus funds for video conferencing technology at all elementary schools. The technology is being installed at Hall County middle and high schools this fall, which will allow a teacher to instruct more than one classroom at a time.

Funding from the 1-cent special purpose local option sales tax will provide laptops to elementary school teachers as well.
"This is a good morale boost for our teachers, too," Schofield said. "An awful lot haven't complained during all these cuts but have dealt with technology that doesn't work well."

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