By Curt Yeomans and Johnny Jackson
State School Superintendent Kathy Cox is concerned about early data which suggests nearly half of Georgia's eighth-graders may not be able to move to high school next year because they did not pass the math section of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT).
Also, the vast majority of sixth- and seventh-graders missed the mark in social studies.
Cox's announcement on Monday was based on reports the Department of Education (DOE) has been receiving from school systems across the state as they receive CRCT results and review the data. The department will not have statewide data processed and ready for release until early June, said Matt Cardoza, a spokesman for the DOE.
What alarms Cox the most is preliminary reports for the school districts which suggests roughly 40 percent of eighth-graders did not pass the math section of the CRCT, while eight out of 10 sixth- and seventh-graders failed the social studies portion of the test.
"For the past three years, the state has been implementing a new curriculum -- the Georgia Performance Standards," Cox said in a statement. "The GPS is more rigorous in all areas. As we have implemented the curriculum, we have created new CRCTs that set higher standards for our students, as well."
The CRCT is used to determine whether elementary and middle school students are learning the objectives outlined in the Georgia Performance Standards. The math and English/Language Arts results for the third-, fifth-, and eighth-graders are used to determine whether schools, and entire districts are making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).
If a large number of eighth-graders are failing the math section, it could mean a similarly large number of middle schools across the state are not meeting the academic requirement for AYP. Additionally, students who fail a section of the test have to attend summer school to prepare to retake the test before the next school year begins.
In regard to eighth-grade math, Cox said it is not unusual to see test scores temporarily go down when the standards and expectations for students are raised. This year, the standards were raised to mandate that all eighth-graders had to be exposed to algebra, statistics and geometry.
"But as Georgians, it is imperative that we are honest about our mathematics achievement," Cox said. "For too long we have had a vast majority of our students performing well on state tests, only to be poorly prepared for national assessments. The result has been low national test scores and, ultimately, students who are not college or work ready."
The state superintendent said her department is working on policy and budget changes to make more money available to local school systems to relieve the burden of "increased summer school costs."
Cox said the low pass rate for the sixth- and seventh-graders in social studies is "cause for alarm" because the decrease is "far more dramatic than we have seen in other areas when we have transitioned to the new curriculum." Last year, 89 percent of sixth-graders met, or exceeded, the state standards for social studies by passing the test, while 85 percent of seventh-graders accomplished the same feat.
Cox plans to put together a panel of teachers and curriculum specialists within the next week to review the implementation of new social studies standards in an attempt to find a root cause for the low performances by Georgia students. She will have the panel look at the clarity of the standards because it "appears that the specificity of the test questions may have caught some students off guard...
"We know our social studies teachers care deeply and are working hard," Cox said. "These results are not reflective of their instruction or their effort. It is my hope we can work together to determine where changes must be made so we can truly reflect the learning that's going on in our classrooms."
In both Clayton and Henry counties, officials are still reviewing the raw data from the CRCT, and determining what it means for students in both counties. Clayton school officials expect to have a preliminary report ready by the end of the week, and they do not want to comment on the CRCT results until they know how the county's children will be affected, said district spokesman, Charles White.
In Henry County, the school system has a number of students who did not pass portions of the CRCT, and may have to do remedial study in order to retake the test this summer. "We expected to see some dip," said Erik Charles, Henry County Board of Education District 4 member. "And it's something we're just going to work on. It's something we're going to have to come to grips with and deal with."
The goals of the federal No Child Left Behind act appear to be increasingly more difficult for some states than others, according to a report released Tuesday by the Center on Education Policy.
The center, an independent nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., listed Georgia among 23 states that have taken a "back-loaded approach" to meeting annual state-level NCLB goals. The approach in those states has been lower expectations for the percentages of students reaching proficiency between 2002 and 2008, with steeper expectations later on.
"Many states may have originally set lower achievement goals for the first few years ... in hopes of getting systems into place or gaining some flexibility from Washington later on," said Jack Jennings, president and CEO of the Center on Education Policy. "But right now, they are still on the hook for the academic equivalent of a mortgage payment that is about to balloon far beyond their current ability to pay."