By Curt Yeomans
A parade of about 20 students marched down the bus lane at Hawthorne Elementary School on Friday afternoon, stomping their feet and clapping their hands as they chanted about test scores.
Their fellow students sat somewhat quietly as the school's step team began performing Hawthorne's rallying cry for this year. Some students were still filing out from the school building, while the Hawthorne Steppers performed "9 Double Zero."
The steppers kept clapping, and stomping and chanting.
The school's Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT) pep rally was beginning.
"We must be ready... When the big day comes," the steppers chanted.
"We must be ready... When the big day comes," they repeated.
The big day has arrived.
Clayton County elementary and middle school students begin taking the CRCTs today, and will continue taking the examinations throughout the week.
The CRCTs are designed to measure how well the students are learning the Georgia Performance Standards (GPS). As a result, the tests also determine whether or not pupils will move on to the next grade level.
The tests are also one of three factors used by the Georgia Department of Education to determine whether or not a school has made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).
It only takes an 800 to meet the state standards on the CRCTs, but students at Hawthorne Elementary School are striving for a higher goal this year. Each pupil screamed that he or she wanted to achieve a minimum score of 900, which is near perfection on the state test.
"[Principal Wynton] Walker and I were doing strategic planning last summer and decided we wanted to push our students to strive for level three on the CRCT," said Marcus Jackson, Hawthorne's assistant principal. "You have level one, which is everything below 800. Then you have level two, which is anything between 800 and 829. Level three is anything above 830.
"We had several students who were on the bubble last year, scoring in the 820's, so we decided it was time to take things up a notch. Nine-hundred is very close to being perfect [950 is the highest score possible, according to the Georgia Department of Education]. If we strive for perfection, excellence will be achieved."
As part of Hawthorne's "9 Double Zero" campaign, the school has taken a unique group of 42 students and turned them into the school's CRCT representatives, because they make people think they're seeing double.
They are the school's 21 pairs of twins.
"I'm just excited about taking the tests, so we can prove we know everything on them," said Cory James, 8, a second-grader at the school.
"Well, at least prove I know everything. I don't know so much about him," interjected Jalen, Cory's identical brother.
Second-graders, Summer and Gracie Ganyon, were excited about multiple portions of the tests. They are eager to take them, so they can move on to the third grade, but they also want to help their school continue it's streak of making AYP every year since the Federal No Child Left Behind Act was passed in 2001.
Last year, 79.5 percent of Hawthorne students met or exceeded the state standards for math, while 78.1 percent achieved the same accomplishment on the reading/language arts section of the CRCTs.
Fourth-graders, Ayanna and Anthony Freeman, 9, are only fraternal twins, but they are seeking identical scores on the CRCTs.
"The coolest part about taking the CRCTs is when your school makes AYP," Ayanna Freeman said. "We have a lot of pride in our school's AYP streak."
Brenda Stanford, the school's CRCT campaign coordinator, said she came up with the idea of using the twins last fall, when she saw a class of kindergartners, with two pairs of twins in the group, walking down the hall at school.
"I had already come up with the '9 Double Zero' song when I saw the twins, and I said to myself 'Wow, we really have a lot of twins in our school,' " Stanford said. "What better way to present our campaign theme than to use twins.?"
As the start date of the tests approached, local schools held events to get students excited about the CRCTs. More than a dozen Clayton County elementary and middle schools, including Hawthorne, had events designed to get students excited about the CRCTs in recent weeks.
Some of the events ranged from CRCT Parent Night at Rex Mill Middle School, to CRCT T-shirt sales at Adamson Middle School, to CRCT Spirit Week at Kendrick Middle School, to Forest Park Middle School's CRCT Jam on Saturday. Several other schools held CRCT-related events, such as math or literacy theme nights, throughout the school year.
Thirty-two out of 37 elementary schools made AYP last year, compared to six out of 14 middle schools.
While the build up to the CRCTs is about getting students excited about taking the tests, the examinations are actually the culmination of work which has been going on in the classrooms since August 2007.
"Our teachers have worked hard throughout the year to prepare our students to be successful academically," said Kay Sledge, assistant superintendent of middle schools.
"We believe this preparation, based on a curriculum aligned with the Georgia Performance Standards, has provided our students with the knowledge needed to not only demonstrate their ability to achieve passing scores on the CRCT tests, but to also achieve success in anything they attempt to do."