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Science, social studies teachers stick to standards under new measuring index
Gainesville Middle School science teacher Brooke Hollingsworth, right, works with seventh-grader Tavia Lord on a project involving the feeding preferences of the insect.

Science and social studies teachers are sticking to the standards they’ve always taught as more emphasis is now being placed on those subjects in measuring overall school success.

Under the new College & Career Ready Performance Index, students must demonstrate mastery of grade-level science and social studies courses in addition to the previously required mastery of English, language arts and math.

The new index is more complicated than the previous index, Adequate Yearly Progress, which measured just seven indicators of how a school performs, most of which were tied to Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests scores in English, language arts and math and graduation tests for high school students. The new index measures some 73 indicators of a school’s performance and includes end-of-the-year student test scores in all five subject areas.

The new index is part of a waiver the state was granted from the No Child Left Behind Act and provides schools with a score out of 100 instead of a pass or fail.

Ken Martin, principal of Gainesville Middle School and a former science teacher, said he thinks the index works to validate all content areas.

“The biggest thing is that it makes all subject areas important,” Martin said. “Whereas in the past they only looked at math and language arts and reading. This brings in all five content areas. Which to me is important and validates education.”

He said he expects science and social studies teachers to feel a bit more pressure than they have in the past since the index is new and the student test scores are reflected on teacher evaluations.

“But pressure is not always a bad thing,” Martin said. “To me these kids now understand that ‘social studies is important in my life. Science is important in my life.’ And when teachers make it real-world applicable, to me that’s the connection part and the value in the new system.”

Middle and elementary school students recently completed the CRCT. High school students will take their End of Course Test next month.

Brooke Hollingsworth, seventh-grade science teacher at Gainesville Middle, said she feels that science has always been important and is glad it’s getting the same attention other courses are. She said the extra attention won’t change the way she teaches.

“I like the focus more on science,” Hollingsworth said. “Because it doesn’t get as much attention as some of the other classes. I’m excited that they’re actually realizing (that) science does count.”

Hollingsworth said she’s eager to work with other courses, like language arts, to combine lessons and help students work on multiple skills at once.

Next year the language arts department intends to study a book about genetics at the same time the science classes are teaching it. Right now, students in her class are reading more real-world-applicable science articles to hone multiple skills.

But not all teachers share Hollingsworth’s excitement.

Ginger Jackson, social studies department chairwoman at Flowery Branch High School, said teachers are feeling the pressure and are trying to prepare students for the tests as best they can.

Jackson said teachers are sticking more closely to the standards that the tests are based on. Some teachers may be having to spend less time on specific lessons that are interesting but not necessarily a part of the course’s standards.

“The standards aren’t new,” Jackson said. “It’s just the tests are changing the way we’re being judged. There are no new standards but now there’s more pressure to make sure (students) get the standards. You may have to give up something you like in U.S. history that isn’t stressed in the standards.”

Teachers are still working hard to give students a strong education but she hopes education officials recognize that student achievement, particularly at higher grade levels, rests on individual students.

“We can only give them the information. We can’t take the test for them,” Jackson said. “I can assure you we’re not sitting around twiddling our thumbs. We’re up there teaching, trying to get them prepared. High school kids — they’re adults basically. We can only give them the information and prepare them and hope they perform well that day on that test.”