Results from Georgia students on the Criterion Referenced Competency Tests are sending shock waves through the state Department of Education and local school systems.
At Monday night's Warren County Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Carole Jean Carey said she and several county office staff members had been on a conference call with State School Superintendent Cathy Cox for most of the afternoon about the local system and state results. McDuffie County Superintendent Mark Petersen also was in on the call.
Superintendent Cox told superintendents that unofficial CRCT test results for local systems are causing concern because of a drastic drop in several areas. Superintendent Cox said that some systems have raised concerns about low scores in eighth grade mathematics and sixth and seventh grade social studies.
In a press release sent out late Monday afternoon, Superintendent Cox addressed some of the concerns raised by superintendents, educators and parents across the state. Superintendent Cox said that the state has been implementing a new curriculum - the Georgia Performance Standards. The GPS is more rigorous in all areas, including math and social studies. As the curriculum was introduced, the state created new CRCTs that set higher standards for students as well. A substantial majority of Georgia sixth and seventh grade students did not meet standards on the social studies exam. Preliminary reports put the pass rate on these two exams at 20-30 percent, down more than 60 points from last year. Superintendents Carey and Petersen said that their system's results are in line with the states averages. Superintendent Cox said the dip in the pass rate from previous years is far more dramatic than the state has seen in other areas when transitioning to a new curriculum and she adds that it is cause for concern.
Superintendent Cox told superintendents that Georgia's social studies teachers care deeply and are working hard and that the CRCT results are not reflective of their instruction or their effort. Superintendent Carey and Warren County Middle School Principal Truett Abbott were thrilled to hear Superintendent Cox say that the problem does not lie in the instruction but in the state standards and testing. Mr. Abbott said that several social studies teachers were in tears last week after looking over the results. Superintendent Carey said that Superintendent Cox told the superintendents that she was gathering a panel of teachers and curriculum specialists together in the coming days to start examining the first-year implementation of the new standards in social studies to figure out what may have caused such poor performance. One area that will be looked at, Superintendent Cox said, is whether the middle grade social studies standards were clear enough.
While the social studies portion of the test saw the largest drop, perhaps the one that will affect local systems the most will be the math results. Superintendent Cox said that the numbers in eighth grade mathematics are generally what districts' expected. The pass rate on the eighth grade mathematics test will be around 60 percent. Superintendent Carey and Petersen said that their system's results are in line with the state's 60 percent rate, down from a state average of 81 percent last year.
Warren and McDuffie County superintendents say the math results have a big impact on the number of students who must retest under the state's promotion and retention policy since students in fifth and eighth grades must pass the reading and mathematics CRCTs in order to be automatically promoted to the next grade. These results could also affect the status of schools under No Child Left Behind guidelines. The state, Superintendent Carey said, asked earlier this year for an adjustment to the annual academic goals in math to adjust for the rigor of the curriculum. These goals - called Annual Measurable Objectives - were set before the new curriculum was written. Superintendent Cox added that the state department of education will continue to pursue this flexibility.
The state school superintendent also said that money will be available for systems to use to offset increased summer school costs, since students must pass the math portion to be promoted. Classes will be available in Warren and McDuffie County schools for elementary and middle school students to study and then retest for promotion. Superintendents Carey and Petersen said that the state is asking systems to keep detailed records on the costs of remediation and retesting so they can champion for additional funds, if needed. Social studies CRCT scores do not affect promotion, Superintendent Carey said.
Because of the drastically low scores on social studies CRCTs, Superintendent Carey said that some Georgia schools may have a hard time making adequate yearly progress and may see a reduction in federal funds for school systems.