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Despite demographic shifts, Gwinnett outpaces state averages in Georgia Milestones

Statewide, students performed a bit better on the second round of the Georgia Milestones compared to last year when the test made its debut.

As usual, Gwinnett County posted a strong showing, which is important given that the state's largest school district is also the one seeing a dramatic shift in demographics. It now has more children who are English language learners and more students living in poverty, both of whom often bring learning challenges. 

As the AJC just reported: In 1995, 80 percent of Gwinnett County Public Schools students were white. By 2015, that number dropped to just 26 percent, according to the ARC's data. Over the same time period, the school system's share of Hispanic students increased sevenfold — from 4 percent to 29 percent — and the proportion of black students more than tripled, from 9 percent to 31 percent...  Gwinnett became a "majority minority" county — meaning non-white residents account for more than half of the population — in 2010, and the ARC projects that the county will have more Hispanic residents than white ones by 2040

Yet, Gwinnett County students continue to surpass statewide average in almost every area. Forty-three percent of county third-graders were proficient or better in English/Language Arts, eight percentage points higher than the state average. Nearly half of Gwinnett’s fifth-graders were proficient or better in math, 11 points higher than the state average. The percentage of Gwinnett’s eighth-grade students deemed “proficient” was nine percentage points better than 2015.

Part of the increase in scores in Gwinnett and statewide reflects increased teacher familiarity with the test. But familiarity did not seem to burnish the performance of Atlanta Public Schools.

According to AJC reporter Molly Bloom:

About a third of Atlanta students in most key grades are on grade level in reading and writing, according to new state test results released today. Atlanta third, fifth and eighth graders passed state 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 County had lower passing rates.

These test scores represent the second year that a new superintendent, Meria Carstarphen, has led Atlanta schools. Compared to last year, Atlanta saw lower scores in some grades and subjects. That’s unusual. This is also the second year Georgia students took these particular state tests. As students and teachers become more familiar with a test’s format, scores tend to go up.

Nor did familiarity appear to make a significant difference in DeKalb, according to AJC reporter Marlon Walker. Walker reports more than two-thirds of the district’s students failed to reach proficiency across grades. But there were promising signs, which DeKalb Schools highlighted in this statement:

The DeKalb County School District’s Georgia Milestones End-of-Course and End-of-Grade test scores highlight student progress in academic proficiency across the District.

  • In language arts, 29 elementary schools met or exceeded the state average in the percentage of students in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades scoring in the two highest categories, Proficient Learner and Distinguished Learner. Eleven of these schools were Title I schools.
  • Likewise, 17 elementary schools met or exceeded state averages in the percentage of students in the highest scoring bands for mathematics. On average, over 21 elementary schools scored in the highest bands of performance for both science and social studies. There are 84 elementary schools in the District.
  • In middle school language arts, eight middle schools showed significant proficiency in the percentage of students in the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades scoring in the Proficient Learner or Distinguished Learner performance bands, either meeting or exceeding state averages. Four middle schools are designated as Title I. There are 19 middle schools in the District.
  • On average, 61 percent of students in the District scored within or above the scoring range for Lexile Levels, a scale for measuring the reading ability of a student.
  • Across the District, at least 32 percent of high school students completing the Ninth Grade Literature and Composition, American Literature and Composition, Biology, United States History, and Economics Spring 2016 End-of-Course assessments scored in state’s highest performance categories, illustrating significant proficiency in the mastery of content standards.
  • An increase of 8.3 percentage points in high school graduation rates for the Class of 2015 continues the growth in graduation rates.  There are 22 high schools in the District.

For Cobb, the AJC reports:

In Cobb, 44 percent of third-graders were “proficient” or “distinguished” in language arts based on the test scores, compared with 36 percent of third-graders statewide. In fifth-grade mathematics, that proportion of Cobb students was around 44 percent, compared with 38 percent statewide.

The percentages of Cobb students rated proficient or distinguished generally was better in the higher grades, but two math tests gave high school students some trouble: only a little more than 14 percent were proficient in analytic geometry, and just under 19 percent in coordinate algebra. In biology, the proportion of proficient scorers was just under 62 percent and in physical science, more than 70 percent.

In Fulton, about half of the students scored proficient or better in English and math and performed better than the statewide average, reported the AJC.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.