Schools' test scores now a keystroke away

By Greg Gelpi

Parents are now able to see for themselves that their children are not being left behind.

The Governor's Office of Student Achievement unveiled a new website that gives a detailed report card on each of the state's schools in accordance with the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Parents can log on to www.gaosa.org and www.gadoe.org to check the test results of schools, as well as other statistics such as attendance, graduation and dropout rates. Although the state has released test scores for more than a decade, many of these numbers are broken into race/ethnicity, gender, economic background, disability and English proficiency for the first time.

"Any unanswered questions parents have, they can go to the Internet," Gwendolyn Park, the president of the Brown Elementary School Parent Teacher Association, said.

Parents often ask her about Brown's test scores, she said. She answers their questions and is able to direct them to the Internet for more information.

Not only does the legally mandated service inform the public, it also helps improve community relations, Park said.

"I think this helps build trust within the community," she said, adding that building trust is more important now since many in the community lost trust in the school system. The system's accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, placed it on probation in May, shaking the trust of many parents.

The online reporting also adds convenience, Park, a mother of three Brown students, said. She is able to check a school's test scores at her availability and her convenience.

The new site opened Monday with attendance statistics, graduation rates, dropout rates and college entrance exam scores, Martha Reichrath, executive director of the Office of Student Achievement, said. More information will be phased-in in the next few weeks, including scores on the state's Criterion-Referenced Competency Test.

The site will also compare schools to the county and state averages and to how the schools did in previous years.

Brown Principal Cindy Lee said the site will inform and empower parents to learn about testing and a school's test scores.

"It's going to be a better tool in the long run," Lee said. "I think it will help parents become more aware of different levels of testing."

A new feature of the online report card is economic information of students, which Lee said is an indicator of academic ability.

She said that one of the accomplishments she is "most proud of" is that while the number of low-income students has risen at Brown, the test scores have also risen. Indicators show that low-income students tend not to do as well on standardized tests.

The new demographic numbers will provide more information regarding the test scores and enable schools to target students that need more help.

In addition, students' individual test scores will be available for parents to access too, Todd Williams, director of technology for Clayton County Public Schools, said.

Teachers and administrators began using Smartweb, an electronic grade book and attendance sheet, for students last year. With the software they can track a student's progress and retrieve information quickly, and soon parents will be able to do the same, Williams said.

"This is something that would not have been able to be done in the past," he said.

For families without Internet access at home, the Clayton County public library system provides free access at all of its five locations. Patrons of the libraries need only signup for the free access.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.