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Students show improvement in statewide CRCT exams
Hall superintendent cautiously optimistic about local test scores
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Statewide scores for the test that determines schools’ success were released Wednesday, and most subject areas showed improvement.

The Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests assess students in grades 1-8 in reading, English/language arts and mathematics.

Third- through eighth-graders are also tested in science and social studies.

This year’s tests showed improvement in 25 of 34 content areas, no change on six tests and a decrease on three tests — second grade reading, second grade English/language arts and first grade mathematics.

“These results provide further evidence that our teachers are doing a great job implementing the Georgia Performance Standards and they are to be commended for their hard work,” State Superintendent Kathy Cox said. “It also shows that when you raise expectations, Georgia students will rise up and meet that higher bar.”

The scores show a second consecutive year of improvement for elementary and middle school students after tougher state standards caused some scores to drop.

System and school level results should be released in the next few weeks, and Hall County and Gainesville schools expect good news.

“Our retest scores are back, so we’re working on the final numbers now,” said Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield.

“The bar went up for standards, and I think we still did well. I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said she is “overall pleased” with the scores, but there are always areas with concerns.

“This year the annual yearly objective for math went up by 10 points, so that’s not going to look as strong,” she said. “We just had our summer retakes, and those looked fine. We had good instruction. But summer school wasn’t as long as in the past, so we could see a change there, too.”

CRCT scores help to determine Adequate Yearly Progress for schools, or federal testing benchmarks as defined under the No Child Left Behind Act. Teachers often raise complaints about “teaching to the test” to cover curriculum areas included on benchmarks, and this year Gainesville City Schools just may listen.

“Parents started a conversation about this, and we want to use the information to target where we need additional help but agree that the test does not define every moment of our lives,” she said. “We’re over it, as the students say.”

Schools will continue to look at the testing scores and use benchmarks, but will focus on improving engagement through creative projects, exhibitions and problem solving.

“Gainesville City Schools does a wonderful job with the children we serve, but the children we serve have unique and very intense needs,” she said. “If we define a ‘good job’ on test scores, we’ll never think we’re doing well enough. But papers, attendance and discipline will show we’re teaching them with balance.”

As defined by the “balanced scorecard” mentality pushed by state Department of Education officials to achieve certain standards, Gainesville schools just don’t have balance, Dyer said.

“There isn’t balance when it’s all about the test in this state,” she said. “We have more subgroups than anyone in Northeast Georgia when it comes to diversity and poverty. Someone is always not going to make AYP, and we know we need to improve, but you just have to keep going.”

This fall’s goal? Find the joy in teaching again.

“That’s something we can do in this time where we have financial challenges,” she said. “Joy doesn’t cost anything. We’re not going to let the test interfere anymore and make our lives more difficult.”

CRCT results also help determine whether students in grades three, five and eight are promoted. Students in those grades must pass reading, and fifth and eighth-graders must pass math to advance. Passing rates rose statewide by between two to four points for those students in those subjects.

With the addition of sixth and seventh grade social studies this year, all content areas have now transitioned to the Georgia Performance Standards from the Quality Core Curriculum. The results for these exams were invalidated in 2008. Statewide, 64 percent of sixth graders and 71 percent of seventh graders passed the tests.

When it comes to subgroups, Schofield is concerned about federal officials not passing a flexibility rule granted in the past for special needs students. The rule gives a percent bump to Georgia schools so they can make AYP. By this year, the state was supposed to develop and administer the Georgia Alternate Assessment to this subgroup, and the flexibility would be dropped.

Because of budget cuts, however, the test could not be distributed.

“This could take it from three of our schools possibly not making AYP to 12, and it certainly won’t be unique to our district,” Schofield said. “It’ll especially be high in middle schools where feeder elementary schools come together and a subgroup emerges.

The schools didn’t become stupid overnight; the rules just changed.”

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