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School system officials look to reverse trend of disappointing test scores

Grady County teachers and administrators are dissecting disappointing test scores from last spring’s Georgia Milestones assessments.
The scores indicate Grady County students are performing below both the state and southwest Georgia region averages, but school system leaders say they are taking strides now in hopes of elevating student achievement next spring.
“We had anticipated higher test scores. The Grady County teachers work diligently to meet the needs of all students no matter the students’ performance levels, so it is disheartening when scores do not match the efforts exerted,” says Janet Walden, assistant superintendent over K-8 curriculum and instruction for Grady County Schools.
The Georgia Milestones assessments is one comprehensive program across grades 3-12, which includes open-ended questions to better gauge students’ content mastery in English Language Arts (ELA), mathematics, science, and social studies. High School students take End of Course assessments while the younger students take End of Grade assessments.
According to the state Department of Education, the tests for students in grades 3-8 assesses student learning along four levels of achievement: beginning, developing, proficient or distinguished learners. Students scoring as beginning learners need substantial academic support to be prepared for the next grade level. Developing learners need additional academic support to ensure success in the next grade level. Proficient learners are prepared for the next grade level, and distinguished learners are well prepared for the next grade level.
In English Language Arts, the percentage of Grady County students in grades 3-8 who scored as developing learners and above, which includes developing, proficient and distinguished learners, ranged from the upper 60s to the mid-70s. Narrowed to include only proficient and distinguished scores, the percentage of local students achieving that level hovered around 21-22 percent, compared to the Southwest Georgia Regional Educational Service Agency (RESA), which ranged from 27 to 32 percent, and the state, which was 20 points higher in some grades, ranging from 37 to 43 percent.
The percentage of students scoring as proficient and distinguished learners in English Language Arts by grade are:
3rd Grade, 21 (Grady), 27 (RESA), 37 (State)
4th Grade, 21 (Grady), 32 (RESA), 41 (State)
5th Grade, 21 (Grady), 29 (RESA), 41 (State)
6th Grade, 22 (Grady), 28 (RESA), 39 (State)
7th Grade, 21 (Grady), 27 (RESA), 38 (State)
8th Grade, 23 (Grady), 31 (RESA), 43 (State)
Grady County School Superintendent, Dr. Kermit Gilliard, says introducing a new reading program last year may have impacted local scores.
“While our teachers have been trained to use it, they were not as familiar with it. I expect we will see increases in Reading/Language Arts scores this year as they have had more experience with the curriculum and they implement its components with fidelity,” Gilliard says.
In Math, test takers in Grady County start in 3rd grade and end in 8th grade more competitively, but still below state and region averages of students scoring as proficient and above. Scores for local 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th graders lag well below the state. The gap between Grady and the region in Math is similar to the that scored in English.
The percentage of students scoring as proficient and distinguished learners in math by grade are:
3rd Grade, 36 (Grady), 41 (RESA), 46 (State)
4th Grade, 27 (Grady), 38 (RESA), 47 (State)
5th Grade, 23 (Grady), 26 (RESA), 39 (State)
6th Grade, 19 (Grady), 24 (RESA), 38 (State)
7th Grade, 25 (Grady), 31 (RESA), 43 (State)
8th Grade, 30 (Grady), 27 (RESA), 35 (State)
Walden says getting students on level at early ages is very important. “The test scores show us that we need to continue our focus on reading and mathematics in the early grades,” the assistant superintendent says. “It is critically important that students are on grade level in reading and mathematics by 3rd grade. This is a strong indicator as to the future performance of most students in middle and high school.”
Last year, each elementary school added a parapro position to work with students in Kindergarten through 2nd grade who struggle with reading and math proficiency, according to Gilliard. “Each school is using this person in a way they have identified best benefits their students,” he says.
End of grade tests in science and social studies are given only to students in grades 5 and 8. Grady County students’ score gaps are similar in these subjects when compared to the region and state.
The percentage of students scoring as proficient and distinguished learners in science by grade are:
5th Grade, 28 (Grady), 33 (RESA), 40 (State)
8th Grade, 20 (Grady), 28 (RESA), 30 (State)
The percentage of students scoring as proficient and distinguished learners in social studies by grade are:
5th Grade, 20 (Grady), 25 (RESA), 30 (State)
8th Grade, 29 (Grady), 29 (RESA), 41 (State)
Dr. Gilliard contends students should not be judged by a single test score. He says school work in multiple disciplines will ultimately contribute to a student’s overall success. “Our music, art, PE, and Ag teachers work each day with our students on skills that will help our students improve,” Gilliard says.
And, Walden says staff trainings, system wide monitoring and program purchasing will focus on the system’s goals of implementing a balanced literacy approach, with research-based math practices, and the continued implementation of positive behavioral interventions and supports.
The school system also strives to help meet students’ basic needs in order to establish a positive learning environment, Gilliard points out. “Our school nutrition department provides two meals a day free for each student at all seven schools and Northside and Southside students receive a fruit or vegetable snack during the day in addition to breakfast and lunch,” Gilliard says.
Georgia Superintendent Richard Woods says he would like to reduce the number of standardized tests in Georgia to bring it more in line with the federal minimum. “Making this a reality will require a change in state law, and I will push for this change in the upcoming legislative session,” Woods says.
Georgia law requires a comprehensive summative assessment program in grades 3-12, including End of Grade assessments in ELA and math for grades 3-8, End of Grade assessments in science and social studies for grades 5 and 8, and End of Course assessments in designated core subjects for grades 9-12. Those subjects are: 9th grade Literature and Composition, American Literature and Composition, Algebra I or Coordinate Algebra, Geometry or Analytic Geometry, Biology, Physical Science, U.S. History, and Economics.
This exceeds the federal requirement to test students yearly in grades 3-8, and at least once in high school, in math and reading or language arts; and at least once per grade band (3-5, 6-9, and 10-12) in science.

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