By Clay Wilson
The state's school chief says she expects thousands of Georgia third graders to fail the first administration of a test that could determine whether they're promoted to fourth grade.
Educators in Clayton and Henry counties say they have spent months trying to prepare students and parents for the test and its ramifications.
State officials say the "Georgia Academic Placement and Promotion Policy" is aimed at ending "social promotion. The policy was part of former Gov. Roy Barnes' A-Plus Education Reform Act of 2000, but this is the first year it has been implemented.
This year, it will mean that third graders who do not meet state standards on the reading portion of the nationally standardized Criterion Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) will not advance to fourth grade. The policy will be extended to fifth and eighth grades over the next two years.
According to published reports, Cox told the Georgia House Education Committee this week that 16 to 23 percent of Georgia's 116,000 third graders will fail the first administration of the CRCT. This translates to between 18,560 and 26,680 students.
Data from the Governor's Office of Student Achievement shows that in 2001-02 (the last year in which the CRCT was administered to third grade), 24 percent of Clayton County's third graders failed to meet state standards on the reading portion. In Henry County, the number was 15 percent.
Some state leaders are seeking to have the CRCT-linked promotion requirements delayed. House Education Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Holmes (D-Atlanta) introduced a bill to do this last month.
According to published reports Holmes' bill which was amended so that the requirements would be delayed only if the state does not receive CRCT results by May 26 passed the House and was waiting on a Senate vote.
However, the Georgia Department of Education still intends for the requirements to take effect this year.
"We firmly believe that it is critical to stop letting 3rd graders who cannot read become 4th graders who cannot read," said DOE spokesman Kirk Englehardt. "Research shows that if a
student cannot read by the end of 3rd grade, his or her chances of future educational success are slim."
Englehardt said the state has spent almost $490 million for the 2003-04 school year on programs providing more individualized, intensive instruction for kindergarten- through eighth-grade students who are at risk of not meeting academic grade level standards.
Clayton and Henry County Schools have been working at the system and individual school levels to ensure that their third graders are ready for the CRCT.
"(Teachers) want to make sure that they've done everything they can to prepare their students," said Rhonda Burnough at Jackson Elementary School in Clayton County.
As the school's instructional technology specialist, Burnough works with the system's curriculum and coordinates the standardized testing at the school. She said the upcoming CRCT has been an area of focus for the school's third-grade teachers.
At JES, Burnough said, these teachers have been working with parents one night each week, helping them with study activities. They have also been putting reminders in the students' take-home folders stressing the importance of the test. Counselors have been going into the classroom to give students test-taking tips.
Greg Fields, Henry County Schools' assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said he's worked for almost a year to familiarize teachers and parents with the promotion requirement change. He said he has met with both groups at almost all of the county's elementary schools.
As for the students, Fields said school officials have aimed to focus them not so much on the CRCT, but on the system's "prioritized curriculum" which should correspond to the test.
"The reality is, our children will be prepared if we do a good job of teaching the curriculum, and holding them accountable," he said.
According to Fields, "Our teachers are feeling very confident that our children are prepared and should do very well (on the CRCT) in all grades."
Students who fail to meet the required standards for the first administration of the CRCT will be eligible for a range of intensive instructional options to prepare for a retest. Those who don't meet standards on the retest are then subject to the principal's discretion with the safety net of an appeals process for promotion.