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New data show area student growth in line with statewide averages
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The Georgia Department of Education has released new data that show student achievement in Gainesville and Hall County is growing at a similar rate to achievement statewide.

The state has been collecting standardized test data for the new student growth percentile model since 2011, and on Thursday made that data available to the public at the district and school level. Data for individual students have been provided to school districts and parents.

The student growth percentile shows how much student test scores have improved in comparison with other students who have similar achievement levels. With the model, when students have the same score on a standardized test, the state will track how all of those students score, and the student growth percentile shows how those students improved in comparison to one another.

The data available to the public tracks the median growth percentile for all students in a school or district. The scale is 1-99, so students in a district with a median growth percentile of 50 in a given subject have grown, on average, at the same rate as the average for the entire state.

On the individual level, a student growth percentile of 50 shows a student grew more than the lowest 50 percent of other students with similar past test scores, and less than the highest 50 percent of the same group.

The current data are for growth in the 2012-2013 school year. Scores for 2013 are measured against scores from 2011 and 2012 to assess growth.

Sarah Bell, chief academic officer for Gainesville City Schools, said the data provide parents and school districts with another way of assessing student needs.

“I do really like it,” she said. “It’s a different way to look at what your students are learning or how your district is doing. ... The more you know about your child, the better you can help them.”

Bell said that, rather than just showing whether a student is high- or low-achieving, it can provide insights into how much those students are learning, showing a low-achieving student is progressing, for example, or that a high-achieving student is not. This gives districts, schools and teachers a better idea of how effective their teaching methods are, she said.

The data for individual students also give parents an idea of where their children need the most help.

Kevin Bales, director of middle and secondary education for Hall County schools, agreed the new way of looking at test data is useful.

“The Hall County School District is supportive of the improved and appropriate use of student growth data at both local and state levels,” he said in a written statement.

He did have one caveat, though, when it comes to interpreting the data: “Realizing the pending start of the 2014-2015 school year, parents and community members need to know first and foremost that the data being shared (are) lagging significantly and (do) not include data from the previous year’s standardized tests.”

Bell said it has taken some time to iron out clerical issues with the collection of data, which is why the data were not released publicly until this year despite having been collected since 2011.

In Hall County, notable median growth percentiles at the school level include a score of 93 for seventh-grade social studies at East Hall Middle School, a score of 87 for sixth-grade math at Davis Middle School, and a score of 87 for sixth-grade science at South Hall Middle School.

In Gainesville, notable scores at the school level include scores of 69 or above for math at New Holland Knowledge Academy and for social studies at Centennial Arts Academy and Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School.

Scores were lower in physical science, where the districtwide median growth percentile was 29.

Bell said this data will be useful as the district makes plans for improvement. For example, the high improvement in math at New Holland will prompt the district to look at what New Holland is doing in terms of math instruction as it works to improve math scores at other schools.

“From a district perspective, we’re certainly looking at it to see where we have areas for improvement and for areas where we’re doing well so we can look at how to replicate it,” she said.

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