The Times takes a more in-depth look at areas where schools are failing, such as social studies.
Test scores released Wednesday show most Gainesville and Hall County schools are improving but have far to go to beat or even meet statewide results in some areas.
The preliminary school-level Criterion-Referenced Competency Test scores show how students in grades third through eighth perform in reading, English and language arts, math, science and social studies.
Students overall performed well in reading and English and language arts. Math scores at many schools were approaching or beating statewide numbers. Science and social studies scores at many schools fell well below statewide scores.
All schools in all grade levels showed improvement over 2010 scores in at least one area except for Wauka Mountain third grade, Riverbend third grade, Centennial third grade, Enota third grade, Lyman Hall fourth and fifth grades, Fair Street fourth grade, Tadmore fifth grade and West Hall Middle eighth grade.
The scores are used to determine Adequate Yearly Progress. If schools fail to make AYP, they face a series of escalating consequences — including having state officials step in to run individual schools.
"Our scores really fell in line with the poverty rate, although we have improved in every subgroup," Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said.
She said scores reflect the number of students on free and reduced-price lunch programs at elementary schools, as these students tend to be placed in more subgroups and their scores are thus weighted more.
"You count in multiple subgroups. If you are a Hispanic student who is (an English language learner) and you have a learning disability and you're economically disadvantaged, your score counts in five areas. It counts as all students and also in all of those subgroups," Dyer said. "On the other hand, if you're Hispanic and you're not another category, your score only counts in all students and in the Hispanic subgroup."
In essence, she said many things that look like score problems are, in fact, a small group of students whose scores count multiple times.
"The more diversity of groups you have, the harder it is to get your test scores to reflect just raw ability," Dyer said.
In Gainesville schools, Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School had by far the lowest scores. Dyer attributed this to the high number of students at the school who don't start the year there.
Both Gainesville and Hall County schools had low social studies and science scores, but they were up from 2010.
"The percent of the number of students who were exceeding increased in every grade level," said Eloise Barron, Hall County assistant superintendent for teaching and learning. "That tells me that compared to what we had last year, we're focused a little bit more on instruction. Our scores in social studies are hovering close to the state mean but are still below it."
She said Hall County will have an increased focus on science scores in upcoming school years, as these will soon affect how a school does in meeting AYP.
Where Hall County was below average in science and social studies, it made up for it with reading and English and language arts scores.
World Language Academy had 100 percent of its fourth-graders scoring at or above the standards in reading and 100 percent of its fifth-graders doing the same in the English-language arts area.
David Moody, principal at World Language Academy and Hall County director of elementary schools, attributed the high scores to the way reading and writing are taught at the school, using workshops instead of teaching test-taking procedures.
He expressed some concern over scores in 2012, the year fourth-graders will have the language immersion program as part of their curriculum.
"The research shows that typically speaking, test scores dip in an immersion program because the students are taught part of their day in Spanish but the test is given in English," Moody said.
He said the situation occurred with his daughter, who as a third-grader took the CRCT and later told Moody she wished parts of it had been given in Spanish, because that was how she learned the material.
Overall, Barron said despite the system's challenges, she is pleased with the scores.
"We're doing a pretty good job systemwide working with all of our students," she said. "When you expect more out of students, oftentimes you get more."
The most recent scores do not reflect scores made on retakes, scores of special needs students or scores by students taking the monitored CRCT.