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Students facing tests early

By Trina Trice

Although Dana Beach doesn't spend too much time thinking about standardized tests, she does believe they are a valuable tool for measuring student achievement.

Clayton County students overall have performed below the state average on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test and the Georgia High School Graduation Test.

Eighth-graders not meeting standards in the reading subject test Clayton County has dropped over the last three years but is still above the state's with 22 percent of the county's students not meeting standards versus 20 percent for the state.

The biggest disparities between Clayton County students' performance when compared to the state average lies with the subject tests in Language Arts and math.

In 2002, 34 percent of Clayton County students did not meet standards in language arts. The state average was 28 percent. In the subject test on math, 42 percent of Clayton County students did not meet standards. The state average was 34 percent.

In 2002, fourth-graders not meeting standards in the county in the math portion of the test were 45 percent, the state's average was 34 percent. Although there was a small increase in that number for Clayton County fourth-graders, the gap remains between the county and the state.

Students not meeting standards in language arts were 29 percent. The state average was 23 percent. In the subject test on reading, 25 percent of Clayton County students did not meet standards. The state average was 20 percent.

Despite the low scores, Iris Weaver, parent of third-grader Ontaricka Weaver, doesn't think it reflects poorly on the students.

"I think it's great to keep on their skills to make sure they're on the right level," she said. "If not, I'd think we'd be lost. But sometimes when they test them there can be a lot of pressure. My child, she gets a little nervous, and sometimes she does well."

Students in elementary and middle schools take the CRCT, however only the test scores of fourth- and eighth-graders are heavily considered. Students in grades three, five and eight take the Iowa Test in Basic Skills with subjects tested in reading, language arts, mathematics, science and social studies.

River's Edge Elementary School Principal April Madden asserts that the tests are used as a diagnostic tool.

"It allows us to individualize instruction," she said. "Through the tests we're able to determine a student's strengths and weaknesses. It also allows the parents to see where the kids are ? they're able to assist them at home, as well."

The ITBS replaced the Stanford 9 of which the state Department of Education had difficulty obtaining accurate scores.

While some Georgia school systems are taking ITBS in the spring, when the CRCT is administered, Clayton County students are taking it this fall.

Fourth-grade teacher Nicole Collier knows the benefit of having students take the test this fall will mean teachers can access test results before the end of the school year.

Collier uses test scores "to see what I need to work on, it's more of a teaching tool for the teacher," she said.

"I think most teachers were initially uncomfortable about (administering ITBS) earlier in the year," Collier continued. "But if they can get the tests back before the students leave, it can be (beneficial). I don't have the scores of my current students."