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Schools encouraged by CRCT scores
Gainesville, Hall students improve; just 1 school left on Needs Improvement
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It looks as if nearly all Gainesville and Hall County schools will meet federal academic accountability requirements this year, local superintendents said.

Many educators across the state have spent the week hunched over state standardized test scores analyzing data to determine which districts and schools will meet “Adequate Yearly Progress” as defined by No Child Left Behind.

The state’s standardized test, the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, is one of the yardsticks the federal government uses to measure AYP to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act. The state’s high school graduation test is one of the tools used to determine whether high schools meet AYP.

Much like students statewide, Hall County and Gainesville school system’s CRCT scores generally reveal improvement over last year’s scores in all subjects except for social studies.

The CRCT is a curriculum-based test given to students in first through eighth grades in the reading, English language arts, mathematics and science and social studies in third through eighth grades.

Local students took the test in April.

Hall County schools Superintendent Will Schofield said based on CRCT scores, he expects nearly all 28 Hall County elementary and middle schools to meet AYP. And he said he anticipates all six of the system’s traditional high schools will meet AYP this year.

“AYP is looking extremely encouraging, but nothing is official yet,” Schofield said. “I think at the end of this year, we could be down to one school on the Needs Improvement list. I think we peaked about two years ago with eight schools on the Needs Improvement list.”

Schools placed on the Needs Improvement list may be required to make program changes if they do not make AYP two years in a row. A school on the Needs Improvement list must make AYP two years in a row to get off the list.

Gainesville schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said all schools in the Gainesville system are set to meet AYP except for Gainesville Middle. She said the school needs only four English language learners to pass the math test on the summer CRCT retest for the middle school to make AYP.

“We feel pretty comfortable they will,” she said.

Gainesville Middle was the only school in the city system that did not meet AYP in the 2007-08 school year.

The state Department of Education should officially announce Adequate Yearly Progress reports in July. A second AYP determination, including CRCT summer retest scores, typically is released later in the summer.

Schofield said since Hall County students who did not pass the CRCT on the first try already have taken their summer retests, reading retest scores for third-, fifth- and eighth-graders improved as math scores for fifth- and eighth-graders also improved.

Schofield said the system is celebrating increases in 15 out of 16 areas on the CRCT reading and math sections.

“Our students have worked hard, our teachers have worked hard,” he said. “This has been a difficult year for everyone and I’m just proud to be part of the team.”

Dyer said Gainesville students also showed improvement in almost all subjects on the CRCT and credits the diligence of teachers and students with the progress.

She said the system has room for improvement for students with disabilities and for English-language learners.

“It will always be a challenge to find the keys to unlock the curriculum to them,” she said.

Schofield said several parts of the test, including math, science and social studies, include a lot of verbiage, so it’s difficult for students who have trouble reading to perform well on subject tests even if they know the material.

Dyer said that since scores show local students are strong readers, she’s hoping the system’s latest approach of interdisciplinary instruction, which combines subjects such as literature with history, will boost scores next year.

“If you just get them reading in social studies and science, there’s your answer,” she said.

According to CRCT scores for Georgia’s elementary and middle schools, students improved in nearly all areas this year, but most dramatically in math and science.

Students across the state posted gains on all 14 of the tests in mathematics and science, all of which are aligned to Georgia’s more rigorous curriculum.

The CRCTs are aligned to the new curriculum for the first time this year. Last year, State Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox took a lot of heat for low test scores on the CRCT, which then was not aligned with the state’s new curriculum rolled out three years ago.

This is the first year students in grades 3-5 took the social studies CRCT aligned to the new curriculum, the state Department of Education reported. The pass rate was more than 70 percent for each grade, the DOE said.

According to education officials, science scores for students statewide in grades 3 and 5 jumped five percentage points. And in third grade, 80 percent of the students met or exceeded standards on the science CRCT; in fifth grade, it was 76 percent.

Reading and English/language arts performance remained high for students across the state and improved in almost every grade, with 89 percent of seventh-graders meeting standards on both tests, the state reported. In sixth-grade, the department said, the pass rate was 90 percent in reading and 91 percent in English.

Gainesville and Hall County students in grades three, five and eight produced reading and English/language arts scores that hover near or above the state average.

Hall County eighth-graders and Gainesville fifth- and eighth-graders scored above the state average in math and science.

Almost all groups of Hall County and Gainesville third-, fifth- and eighth-graders showed improvement over last year in math, science, reading and language arts.

But of those three grade levels, only Hall county eighth-graders showed improvement on the social studies portion of the test. Of those three grade levels statewide, only eighth-graders statewide showed improvement on the social studies portion of the test compared to last year.

While Dyer said she believes the state’s standardized assessment is improving, Schofield said he believes the state’s method of measuring academic progress is still greatly flawed.

“We do not have a growth metric,” he said. “Particularly in the areas of reading and mathematics — and I’ll say it until I quit breathing — we need to be able to determine the value add in reading and mathematics, and not have some sort of a progress report on a set of absolute standards that are arbitrarily chosen.

“Parents should know when they send their child to school for a year where they came in and where they left, particularly in those areas for mathematics and reading.”

And it’s not just the CRCT with which Schofield takes issue. He said although he supports an accountability piece, he continues to voice opposition to the “competency craze” which has ensued since No Child Left Behind became law in 2002.

“It’s still the wrong game to be playing and we’re putting way too much focus on those areas,” Schofield said. “Focus, without a doubt, should be on critical thinking, it should be on creativity, it should be on communication skills, high levels of mathematics and science and it should be on learning foreign languages and not on making sure we’re bubbling in standardized tests correctly.

“I’m all for accountability, but we ought to be measuring 21st century skills.”

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