Latest scores show math gains but overall proficiency still elusive


Georgia’s public school students are showing some improvement in math, while the results were mixed in science and English/Language Arts, according to annual data state education officials released Thursday.

The results showed less than half of Georgia students, typically around 40 percent on each grade level, scored proficient or better in math and English/Language Arts. Students in some of metro Atlanta’s largest school districts fared somewhat better.

“We need to keep focused and get more kids in that proficient and distinguished level,” said Dana Rickman, policy and research director for the nonprofit Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education.

State school Superintendent Richard Woods said he was encouraged by the results, but stressed there’s still work to do to improve student performance. He said the data show students are progressing from grade to grade.

“What we are seeing is our students are improving,” Woods said in a telephone interview.

The Milestones are administered starting in third grade. They measure students’ mastery of state educational standards in English, math, science and social studies.

The scores determine which one of four categories students fall into, from non-proficient to complete mastery, and they count for one-fifth of a high school student’s course grade.

The percentage of Georgia students who fared “proficient learner and above” in math and English/Language Arts was the same or slightly better for grades 3, 4, and 6 than last year. There was a slight decline in grades 5 and 7. Eighth-grader proficiency was slightly better in math with a similar percentage decline in English/Language Arts.

Some metro Atlanta’s larger school districts, such as CobbFulton and Gwinnett, had higher percentages than the statewide average of students who were proficient or better. DeKalb officials, whose students are generally below statewide averages, touted some improvements. Fewer DeKalb students than the statewide average scored proficient or better, the data showed. Atlanta students showed some gains, though many students have not yet reached the proficiency level in core areas.

Rickman said the math results were encouraging, particularly since improving student performance has been a decades-long challenge in the state. She believes the improvement can be attributed in part to students better understanding how to take the tests. Woods attributed the improvement to fewer changes by educators in math standards.

“Finally, we have some stability,” he said.

MORE GEORGIA MILESTONES COVERAGE

The state will release data later this year detailing how students performed that will be separated by race and those who have trouble learning English.

The Milestones were first administered in the 2014-15 school year, replacing a previous set of tests. The goal was to implement a more rigorous set of test standards that included more open-ended questions to better gauge how well students were actually learning.

Some parents and school board members have criticized the Milestones for reasons ranging from occasional computer glitches during the exams to complaints that the exams don’t truly reflect student performance. Cobb County school board members decided last month that the Milestones won’t solely determine whether Cobb County students advance to the next grade level, because they felt the criteria for promotion shouldn’t be limited to one test. Cobb is able to waive this provision because of its “flexibility” contract with the state.

Newton County Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey requested a waiver from the Georgia Milestones for her district, which the state’s education department declined. She said she did it because of issues with test administration, though she’s also concerned with the time it takes to get scores and what they mean in the long run.

“When we finally get the data, the children have moved on to other things, a different curriculum,” Fuhrey said. “It’s not telling them what they don’t know about the new curriculum, it’s telling what the previous curriculum missed.”

Woods said his team will review its three years of Milestones data and determine later this year if any changes need to be made.

DeKalb County parent Kimberly Rogers has more immediate concerns about the Milestones.

She said she still doesn’t know whether her third-grader will move on to the fourth grade when school begins in about two-and-a-half weeks. Her son, Joseph Rogers, didn’t complete the Georgia Milestones testing when it was administered during the school year at DeKalb’s Narvie Harris Elementary School because of anxiety issues, and took the required summer course and retest several weeks ago. Scores have not been released for the retest.

“He completed summer school, but he still had anxiety about the test,” she said. “Every time they would do a mock test, he would get nauseated, start throwing up.”

After the first test, she only received a score, not information on where Joseph needed to improve. The family’s next step is home-schooling.

“This is frustrating,” she said. “He got three A’s and a B on his last report card, and he could be held back because of anxiety.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s extensive coverage of the latest Georgia Milestones results includes more detailed reports on the scores in Atlanta, Fulton, Gwinnett, Cobb, DeKalb and Clayton Counties and a searchable database where you can see the results for each public elementary school in Georgia.



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