State CRCT scores up in most content areas

Students in Atlanta Public Schools outperformed their predecessors in 23 of the 30 content areas of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, statewide and district-level results released Tuesday by the state Department of Education showed.

Overall, Georgia students this year outdid their 2012 scores in 24 of 30 areas and most students met or exceeded standards the test measures.

But APS’ performance was noteworthy on two fronts: The district had some of the largest year-to-year gains in metro Atlanta, and those gains were announced as former APS leaders, including former superintendent Beverly Hall, fight criminal charges tied to alleged cheating on the test in the past.

The CRCT is given in grades 3 through 8 and covers five topics: reading, English/language arts, math, science and social students. Students in grades 3, 5 and 8 must meet or exceed state standards in reading to be promoted to the next grade. Fifth- and eighth-graders must also meet or exceed state standards in math to be promoted.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind education law, CRCT results were the central factor in determining whether a school or district made “adequate yearly progress.” Repeated failure to make AYP could result in the firing of teachers and administrators.

Some school officials in Georgia have said the pressure to make AYP contributed to cheating on the CRCT.

Georgia was granted a waiver from NCLB’s performance measurement system. The state then developed its own measuring system, which uses CRCT and a host of other factors – graduation rates, attendance, success with poor students and those with limited English skills and success in closing performance gaps between groups of students – in giving schools and districts a numerical “grade.”

Georgia has also agreed to adhere to the Common Core, a set of national standards also embraced by 44 other states, the District of Columbia and a pair of U.S. territories.

A national assessment tied to those standards is expected in 2014-1015, but Georgia Superintendent John Barge said he has concerns about the cost of that test.

Georgia, he said Tuesday, could elect to offer that assessment, continue with the CRCT or offer another test.

Either way, he said, scores on future statewide assessments are likely to drop in 2014-2015 because the federal government has required that states raise the so-called “cut scores,” the thresholds for whether a student has met the state standard in a particular subject. Those cut scores vary from subject area and grade level.

Next year, a pair of CRCT scores will be released in each subject area, Barge said. One would be based on the current cut scores and another would be tied to the cut scores that will be used in 2014-2015.

“The expectation is that we will see these numbers decrease,” Barge said.

For now, though, the news is mostly good for Georgia and school districts.

Statewide, 92.1 percent of test-takers in reading met or exceeded the state standard. Just over 88 percent of third-graders met the standard in English/language arts, and 78.5 percent met the standard in math.

Among fifth-graders across the state, 92.9 percent met the standard in reading, while 94.2 met it in English/language arts and 89.5 met it in math.

Among eighth-graders, 96.8 percent met the standard in reading, while 94.3 percent met the standard in English/language arts and 83 percent met it in math.

The percentage of students exceeding the state standard jumped 10 percentage points in fifth-grade math from 2012 to 2013. In seventh-grade reading, there was a 7 percentage point increase in the percent of students who exceeded the standard. And among eighth-graders, the percentage of students who exceeded the standard in math rose 5 percentage points.

Performance did fall off in some areas. The percentage of third-graders who met or exceeded the state standard in math dropped 3 percentage points. Seventh-grade math saw a 1 percentage point drop, as did fourth-grade English/language arts and eighth-grade English/language arts.

School-level results will be released by July 10, said Matt Cardoza, spokesman for the state Department of Education.

Results in metro Atlanta districts tracked closely with those in the state as a whole.

In Gwinnett, the percentage of 8th-graders who met or exceeded state standards in 2013 in math was up 5.8 percentage points from the year before to 91.2 percent. The percentage of fifth-graders who exceeded the state standard in math jumped 10 percentage points.

“That’s huge,” said Jeff Barker, the district’s executive director for accountability and assessment. “In math overall, we were very pleased, especially with the curriculum changing.”

Scores were strong again in Fulton County, where more than 90 percent of test-takers in grades 3 through 8 met or exceeded the standard in English/language arts.

“It’s important that we continue to raise the ceiling as well as the floor when it comes to student achievement,” Fulton Superintendent Robert Avossa said.

Fulton’s scores pleased Betty Klein, a parent who has three foster children in three of the district’s schools.

“I think the new superintendent (Avossa) has done a great job of putting in types of remedial and tutorial programs for students, and I think teachers are spending a great deal of time encouraging students to do work outside of the classroom, including encouraging them spending time on computers learning how to take the CRCT tests,” Klein said.

In DeKalb, only the reading score showed increases across grades 3, 5 and 8, where students must meet or exceed state standards on the CRCT to be promoted. In math, two of three grade levels improved while in English two of three did worse.

Valarie Spradling, a Lithonia-area mom with two sons in DeKalb, said the results don’t mean much to her. She put both her boys into charter schools because she felt her neighborhood school emphasized the test too much and that teachers spent too much time teaching “to” it.

“To hear whether we went up or went down really doesn’t say much to me because the CRCT is not teaching kids to think,” Spradling said.

The test results are even less relevant to her because the CRCT only ranks Georgia students against each other rather than against their peers across the country. “And Georgia’s already at the bottom of the totem pole by comparison against other states,” she said.

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Daarel Burnette II, Jeffry Scott, Ty Tagami and Nancy Badertscher contributed to this report.