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Hall high school students score better on Georgia Milestones tests
Gainesville city scores below state average across board
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Hall County school leaders were generally satisfied with the Georgia Milestones test results released Tuesday, while Gainesville school leaders pointed to student demographics to explain scores below state averages.

The state released the 2016 Milestones results Tuesday, the first time Georgia schools have received the same year’s testing. Until now, state results have been lagging a year behind.

The Milestones tests were given for the second time this past spring, and Gainesville officials emphasized the need for more time with the tests before conclusions can be drawn.

Gainesville schools results were consistently below state averages at all levels.

The Milestones tests are more difficult than previous state tests.

“Throughout the state, the numbers are lower than what you might imagine,” Sarah Bell, chief academic officer for Gainesville, said of the results.

She said the district probably needs five years of results before officials can reach definite conclusions.

Gainesville Superintendent Wanda Creel also said standards changed since last year.

She agreed with Bell about the difficulty of the tests, and she said city students may not have the language ability to grasp the concepts.

She said the Milestones tests require “such a higher level of cognitive reasoning” than previous tests.

About 29 percent of Gainesville students have some difficulty with English.

Hall County school leaders said the results were similar to those from the College and Career Ready Performance Index released in the spring — the older the students, the better the test scores.

Hall’s end-of-course test results in high schools were better than the state average in all but one test. Students who took the American literature and composition in the 10th grade scored 72.9 versus 76 for the state average.

Two tests — literature and composition in the ninth grade and U.S. history — were very close to the state average. The literature score was 78.3 versus 77 for the state average, and U.S. history was 77.1 for the district and 77 for the state.

In coordinate algebra and physical science, Hall County was substantially better than the state. Hall students scored 83.6 in math compared to 68 for the state and 79 to 66 in physical science.

“Our middle schools are doing good. I think our high schools, for the most part, are performing pretty well. Our focus, obviously, is the elementary schools,” said Wayne Colston, Hall County’s director of assessment.

Hall County’s elementary scores as a district are consistently below the state average.

Colston noted that Riverbend Elementary “is a shining star. Pretty much across the board, they’re scoring higher than any other school.” He added that the student body at Riverbend is a mixture of socioeconomic levels and English language learners.

Colston also said the middle school students who took high school courses for credit — literature and composition, for example, “hit it out of the park.” He said those students also are among the higher-performing youngsters.

He said the district will provide “very intense professional learning” for elementary teachers this year. He said the district is working on developing a “common language” for instruction and teaching strategies.

Gainesville officials said the district has a new literacy framework that will be used in all its schools this year. They believe that will help the students with language problems.

The city also uses additional testing to provide more information about students more quickly than the state results.

A reading inventory for all grades will help monitor reading skills throughout the district, Shea Ray, Gainesville director of data and student assessment, said.

Creel said she would be negligent if she did not say that tests such as the Milestones are a “snapshot of a day in time.” That day has a host of factors that will affect how a student does on a test, she said.

“These are children,” she emphasized.

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