Georgia students improve on exams

ATLANTA — Georgia students can breathe easy, thanks to improved test scores.

After dismal results on last year’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests — which are among the measurements Georgia uses to meet federal standards — students improved performance in every subject this year, particularly in mathematics and science, state data released Friday showed. Both subjects have been weaknesses for students in the past.

“I was very, very pleased,” state Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox said in a telephone interview. “This could have been a year where everyone got very distracted. There were a lot of moving parts with the economy collapsing and no one sure what we were going to get in the way of budgets.”

Seventy percent of eighth-graders passed the math exam this year. That’s compared to last year’s mark of 62 percent, which sent thousands of students to summer school looking to brush up on arithmetic and algebra before retaking the test again.

Third-graders this year improved their math passage rate from 71 percent to 78 percent, and fifth-graders improved from 72 percent to 79 percent.

Third-graders must pass the reading CRCT, and fifth- and eighth-graders must pass both the math and reading tests to move on to the next grade. Students who fail twice have the option of appealing to school-based committees.

Results at the school system level will be released later.

State education leaders said they expected the improved math scores this year because teachers have become more comfortable with the curriculum, which was brand new for fifth- and eighth-graders last year. Typically, new curriculum and harder tests translate into a dip in scores, Cox said.

To help, the state focused on math educators this year with extra training and statewide support staff to find and spread the best ways of teaching the new curriculum, she said.

For science, 80 percent of third-graders passed the test, compared to 75 percent last year. The fourth-grade passing rate rose from 74 percent to 78 percent.

Overall, test scores improved in almost every subject of the CRCT this year. Subjects include math, reading, English language arts, science and social studies.

The scores are part of what Georgia uses to calculate progress under federal No Child Left Behind standards. Schools that consistently perform badly on the measurements face sanctions such as required tutoring for students and allowing parents to transfer their children to higher performing schools.

The results are a relief for Cox, who drew fire from parents and teachers last year when testing problems that led to nearly 40 percent of eighth-graders failing the math test on the first try.

Cox also discarded the sixth- and seventh-grade social studies test scores last year because she found that the exam questions didn’t match what students were taught in class.

The social studies curriculum and tests were revamped, which means the scores don’t count for sixth- and seventh-graders this year because they are in pilot phase.

“A lot of people viewed it as a kick in the gut last year,” said Jeff Hubbard, president of the Georgia Association of Educators, a statewide organization for teachers and administrators with 40,000 members. “This year’s scores are a tribute to students and school staff for a year of hard work.”