State encouraged by reading performance in newly released Milestones test results

Still, more than half of third graders below proficient in English Language Arts.

The state Department of Education released statewide spring Georgia Milestones scores today, praising the ongoing improvement in reading on the end-of-year standardized exam.

Reading is the engine that drives the more complex learning of middle and high school, and schools nationwide strive to get all kids at or above grade-level by third grade. Third grade is seen as the dividing line between what is often characterized as learning to read and reading to learn.

Despite the congratulatory chorus for scores that either increased or held steady in 25 of the 26 assessments given across content and grades,  AJC education writer Ty Tagami points out

State School Superintendent Richard Woods credited hard work and a focus on educating “the whole child” with well-rounded schooling. But the news release didn’t mention an important fact: though a larger percentage of students are competent in reading, the majority still are not. More than half of the third graders scored below proficient in English Language Arts.

A quick comparison of scores will confirm that reading performance links to the poverty levels of communities, more evidence of the challenges in overcoming the language and learning deficits associated with growing up in households coping with multiple stressors.

In a meeting with the AJC this week, new Fulton County Superintendent Mike Looney emphasized the importance of preparing children to enter kindergarten, saying he wants more outreach to parents and daycare centers on what kids ought to know. As an example, Looney said arriving kindergarteners should be able to count to 20 and identify shapes such as circles, square and triangles.

“In some of our schools, only 14 to 15 percent can do so,” he said. “Ultimately, we have to get them to a level playing field as early as possible.”

Here is the official DOE release:

Georgia students showed strong gains on the spring 2019 Georgia Milestones assessments. Scores increased or held steady on 25 of 26 assessments – the strongest overall gains recorded in the five years the assessment has been administered. The percentage of students reading on grade level or above increased or held steady in every tested grade and both English language arts high school courses.

“A strong K-12 education system is essential to keeping Georgia the best state in the nation to live, work, and raise a family,” Gov. Brian Kemp said. “These strong results show impressive improvements in Georgia’s public schools, and I commend the educators and students of our state for their hard work.”

“We continue to see increased student performance across indicators – from Georgia Milestones to the SAT and ACT, graduation rate, and the number of students finishing high school with an industry-recognized credential,” State School Superintendent Richard Woods said.

“This is a testament to the hard work of Georgia’s teachers and students, and an increasing focus on educating the whole child and providing a genuinely well-rounded education. While these gains are worth celebrating, we cannot be all about the test – our job is to prepare students for life. I continue to support a reduction of state assessment requirements to the federal minimum, and more realistic and reasonable accountability requirements,” said Woods.

Specifically, the percentage of students achieving the Proficient Learner level and above increased or held steady on 25 of 26 End of Grade (EOG) and End of Course (EOC) assessments, compared to 22 of 26 assessments in 2018. The only assessment for which the percentage of students achieving the Proficient Learner designation was lower saw a one-point drop compared to 2018. Students who achieve the Proficient Learner designation are considered on track to being college- and career-ready.

The largest increases were recorded in ninth-grade literature (increased 9 points), sixth-grade ELA (increased 7 points), third-grade math (increased 6 points) and third-grade ELA (increased 5 points). 

Georgia Milestones’ Reading Status measurement – a Lexile score derived from reading and vocabulary questions on the ELA assessment – showed that the percentage of students reading on grade level or above increased or held steady in every tested grade and both English language arts high school courses. The largest increases were recorded in third grade (5 points), seventh grade (4 points), and ninth grade literature and composition (4 points). 

The third-grade increase is particularly notable given the long-term impact of students’ ability to read on grade level by third grade. 

About Georgia Milestones

Students began taking Georgia Milestones assessments in 2014-15. The testing system is one comprehensive program across grades 3-12, which includes open-ended and technology-enhanced questions to better gauge students’ content mastery. The assessment was administered 100% online for the first time in the 2018-19 school year (with the exception of students who require a paper/pencil test as an accommodation).

Georgia Milestones assesses student learning along four levels of achievement:

Beginning Learners do not yet demonstrate proficiency in the knowledge and skills necessary at this grade level/course of learning, as specified in Georgia’s content standards. The students need substantial academic support to be prepared for the next grade level or course and to be on track for college and career readiness.

Developing Learners demonstrate partial proficiency in the knowledge and skills necessary at this grade level/course of learning, as specified by Georgia’s content standards. The students need additional academic support to ensure success in the next grade level or course and to be on track for college and career readiness.

Proficient Learners demonstrate proficiency in the knowledge and skills necessary at this grade level/course of learning, as specified in Georgia’s content standards. The students are prepared for the next grade level or course and are on track for college and career readiness. 

Distinguished Learners demonstrate advanced proficiency in the knowledge and skills necessary at this grade level/course of learning, as specified in Georgia’s content standards. The students are well prepared for the next grade level or course and are well prepared for college and career readiness.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.
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