Small but steady gains reported on Georgia’s standardized state tests

Staff writers Eric Stirgus, Marlon Walker and Molly Bloom contributed

More Georgia students passed the state’s new standardized test, the Milestones, in 2016, but younger students didn’t realize as much success.

>>See how your school scored on state tests

It was the second year of the tests, which replaced the older Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests in 2015. So these results from testing last spring were the first to allow a direct comparison to results from the prior year.

The percentage of students who achieved scores indicating proficiency increased slightly in 23 of 32 tests from the baseline results of 2015.

Most of the bigger gains were seen among fifth, seventh and eighth grade students.

“I’m pleased,” Superintendent Richard Woods said. “While increases in most areas were seen, the results do highlight the need to focus on early grades, especially in the areas of literacy and numeracy.” His goals include getting students reading on grade level by third grade and reaching proficiency in math by fifth grade, since a grasp of those subjects by those stages of development is essential as a foundation for future learning.

The higher pass rates were just what Vanderbilt’s Peabody College professor Gary Henry would hope to see with a new test — incremental but steady improvement. “The teachers know more about what’s going to be tested,” he said. “They get better with the instructional materials” associated with the state’s new standards. Students also had time to adjust to the open-ended questions in the new test.

In Gwinnett County, the state’s largest school district, the percentage of students who passed exceeded the state average in about every tested subject. The percentage of Gwinnett’s eighth-grade students deemed “proficient” was nine percentage points better than the prior year, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution review of the state data found.

In DeKalb County, Superintendent Steve Green said he saw promising signs. In English language arts, 29 elementary schools met or exceeded the state average in the percentage of students in grades three through five scoring in the top two of the four categories (proficient, or passing, is second from the top). Of those, 11 were Title I schools, a federal designation for schools with high numbers or percentages of poor children.

In Atlanta Public Schools, third, fifth and eighth grade students passed their English language arts and math tests at rates below the state average and among the lowest rates in the metro area. Only Clayton County and, in some cases, DeKalb had lower passing rates.

The Georgia Milestones replaced the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests in the 2014-15 school year. The tests are given starting in third grade and include open-ended questions. Students are ranked in one of four categories in each tested subject: beginning learners have failed to grasp the fundamentals and will require “substantial” help to catch up; developing learners are almost there but still need help to get on track; proficient students have mastered the basics; distinguished students are the top performers.

Because of reports of technical glitches this time, schools do not have to use the scores when considering whether to hold back low-performing students. Despite that waiver, the state Department of Education did not waive use of the scores in grading school performance.

The 2016 results were released much more quickly than the year before, just a few months after the tests were administered last spring. By contrast, the 2015 results took about half a year to produce, coming out in November. A spokesman for the Georgia Department of Education said the 2015 timetable was slower because officials had to set standards and otherwise adjust to a new test. With that work done, the agency expects to release future scores under the current timetable.

ExploreRead more about the results and find links to data the results for your school.

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