Minorities, other groups gain academic ground in Georgia

The state Department of Education released statewide Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests scores this morning. The tests mark the final administration of the CRCT for Georgia students in grades 3 through 8, as new tests aligned to the higher standards will be introduced next year.
The state Department of Education released statewide Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests scores this morning. The tests mark the final administration of the CRCT for Georgia students in grades 3 through 8, as new tests aligned to the higher standards will be introduced next year.

Credit: Curtis Compton, ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton, ccompton@ajc.com

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution will continue to follow the results of this year’s CRCT. The Georgia Department of Education will release district-level results by June 26 and school-level results by July 10. Check out an interactive of state scores by grade and subject at www.MyAJC.com.

Across Georgia, the pernicious educational gap between white children and other key student groups has been narrowing, according to new test scores released by the Georgia Department of Education.

Hispanic eighth graders tested this spring, for instance, scored 26 percentage points higher than eighth graders in 2009 on the social studies exam. The math pass rate among black sixth graders was 12 percentage points higher than five years ago, and among third grade students for whom English is a new language, it was 87 percent in reading versus 76 percent.

In each case, the gains on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests by distinct groups outpaced academic growth among whites.

The improvements among English learners, revealed in the recent release of state level scores on the tests, got the attention of Dana Rickman, an education policy expert. “It’s a big gain and that is a population that is growing in Georgia,” she said.

The policy and research director with the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education said similar success by minorities in a variety of subject areas is a promising trend hidden in the data. In some cases, she said, especially with social studies and science in certain grades (eighth grade girls notched a 16 percentage point increase in science), the gains were “just crazy” big.

Only statewide scores were revealed last week. Results for school districts and for individual schools will be released in the coming weeks from this last administration of the CRCT. The test, long tied to grading of schools, will be replaced next year by a new series of tests to be called Georgia Milestones.

Parents such as Quinnie Cook-Richardson of Decatur have seen improvement firsthand.

Her youngest son, a rising fifth grader, was struggling in several subjects two years ago, but Cook-Richardson, who is black, said teachers in the city school system honed in on his weak areas and got him on track. “He ended up excelling in every subject,” she said. “He’s definitely getting a solid education.”

Experts say the improvements are the result of several big forces. One was, No Child Left Behind, the federal law that forced states to grade schools on the performance of minorities and other “subgroups.”

Before that law, educators would routinely “code out” under-performing kids from test results, or encourage them to stay home on test day, said Melissa Fincher, an associate superintendent at the Georgia Department of Education. “Before, we never looked at the subgroups,” she said. “They were kind of segregated. … They weren’t given access to grade-level curriculum.”

That mandate, in place for about a decade, was recently lifted in Georgia. The state got a waiver from the requirements of NCLB, but had to substitute a measure of school performance that still looks at subgroups. Teachers have honed their craft to find what works, said Fincher, who oversees state testing.

Another big cause is immigration, which has forced more teachers to help students learn English, said Ruth Harman, an associate professor at the University of Georgia. There has been a spike in the number of teachers seeking English learner credentials, she said.

Harman teaches educators how to reach kids who don’t speak English, and said the skill is in high demand because of what she called “the Latino diaspora.”

“There is more of an awareness,” she said. “There’s been a shift and you can see it on the ground.” The English as a second language program in Gwinnett County has made great strides, she said. “Some of the work teachers are doing there is extraordinary because they might have 17 languages in their school.”

Finally, Michael Thurmond, the superintendent in DeKalb County, said the five-year progress among black students is part of a decades-long process of bootstrapping that started after schools desegregated four decades ago. Each generation has stood upon the shoulders of the one that came before. One generation was illiterate, the next graduated high school and the one that followed went to college.

Teachers are becoming more effective, sure, and new technology is helping to detect deficits and intervene, he said. But he thinks the biggest driver of progress is the discussions at the kitchen table and in the living room. “The schools are a part of it, but only part of it,” he said. “The most important influence is the parent.”

How they scored

The Georgia Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT) was given in reading, English/language arts and math in third through eighth-grades. Students third through eight are also tested in science and social studies. Typically, the scores of minority students trail those of white students, a trend called the “achievement gap.” Georgia, like other states, has been working to address the gap with some success. Here are some highlights:

Eighth-grade social studies - % passing CRCT

  ’09 ’10 ’11 ’12 ’13 ’14 Change
Asain 81 85 86 88 89 91 +10
Black 48 56 60 65 67 71 +23
Hispanic 51 62 66 74 75 77 +26
White 75 81 83 86 87 89 +14

Fifth-grade math - %passing CRCT

  ’09 ’10 ’11 ’12 ’13 ’14 Change
Asain 93 94 95 94 96 96 +3
Black 71 73 79 75 84 80 +9
Hispanic 77 81 87 84 89 87 +10
White 86 88 92 90 94 93 +7

Third-grade reading - % passing CRCT

  ’09 ’10 ’11 ’12 ’13 ’14 Change
Asain 94 95 96 96 96 97 +3
Black 82 85 85 84 87 87 +5
Hispanic 85 90 90 90 90 91 +6
White 93 95 96 96 97 97 +4

<sub>Source: Georgia Department of Education</sub>

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