Georgia DOE points to rising test scores as proof of progress


Progress in testing

Georgia’s scores on the SAT and the ACT rose from 2011 to 2012, and the percentage of graduates who scored high enough to earn college credit on Advanced Placement tests also rose. While scores in Georgia are up, some still trail national averages.

SAT

Georgia 2012 score: 1452, up 7 points from 2011. National average: 1498

ACT

Georgia 2012 score: 20.7, up 0.1 from 2011. National average: 21.1

AP

Percentage of Georgia graduates who scored a “3” or higher on an AP exam in 2011: 19.8, up 0.7 from 2010. National percentage: 18.1

Sources: College Board (SAT and AP), ACT

We’re No. 1.

That’s not a claim associated with public education in Georgia, where test scores often trail the national average. In fact, many criticized the state’s public schools during the recent campaign season, making their quality an issue in the fight for the charter schools amendment.

But the state’s Department of Education is touting a singular achievement: Georgia is the only state in the country that saw improvement in its 4th- and 8th-grade reading, math and science scores, a rise in its Scholastic Aptitude Test and ACT scores, and a jump in its percentage of Advanced Placement test-takers who earned college credit.

Drawing attention to that accomplishment is part of the department’s push to remind Georgians that, while public education in this state still has its struggles, big strides are being made.

“I think what it says is we have been working for some time to turn this ship around, and we’re starting to see the results,” Georgia Superintendent John Barge said.

In some areas, the improvements are modest. SAT scores were up seven points from 2011 to 2012. ACT scores were up by 0.1 percentage points, and the percentage of students who got a high enough score to get college credit on AP tests rose to 19.8 percent in 2011 compared with 19.1 percent in 2010. Still, department officials say the breadth of the improvements indicates that good things are happening in public education.

The department is touting the score increases on its website.

Barge credits the state’s curriculum, which was one of a half-dozen used to cobble together a national “common core” of academic standards that have now been embraced by 45 states.

The curriculum, referred to as the Georgia Performance Standards, offers students more rigor and depth, Barge said.

During the campaign for passage of a constitutional amendment supporters hope will lead to more charter schools, the state’s public education system took a verbal beating.

“How long do we allow a child to stay in a failing education system?” the Rev. Tony Lawton of Macon said during a news conference last month at the Capitol, when religious and political leaders from across the state touted the charter schools amendment and criticized public education.

A poll conducted for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution a few weeks before the Nov. 7 election showed that Georgians are far less than thrilled about the job public schools are doing in their communities.

A small majority of those polled — 51 percent — rated the schools as doing an excellent or good job. About 46 percent said they were doing only a fair job or a poor one.

In metro Atlanta, the view of public education was much dimmer, the poll showed. Only 39 percent said public schools in their community were doing an excellent or good job; 59 percent said they were doing only a fair job or a poor one.

The Georgia Department of Education has launched a campaign, Georgia’s Future. Now!, to tout the state’s education accomplishments and tell residents about the changes being undertaken to make more strides.

Barge said a statewide computer system that gives teachers detailed academic information about their students will allow teachers to focus attention on specific problem areas for students. The goal, Barge said, is to get students the help they need as quickly as possible, not after the student has performed poorly on an End-of-Course Test.

Eventually, Barge said, that could help boost state scores up to or past national averages.

“I certainly plan on eclipsing it,” Barge said of the national average on standardized tests. “There are always ways to improve.”