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Clayton schools improve on writing test

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Juniors in Clayton County high schools are continuing to close the achievement gap with their statewide counterparts on the writing portion of the Georgia High School Graduation Test (GHSGT), according to scores released by the school system.

The students are one percentage point behind juniors at other Georgia high schools. Ninety percent of Clayton County juniors passed the writing test in September, compared to 91 percent of juniors at all Georgia high schools. Last year, there was a two point gap between the scores for Georgia and Clayton County. Students cannot graduate from high school in this state without passing all sections of the GHSGT.

The scores come as a positive sign for the school system, which has been struggling with negative press generated by its loss of accreditation a few weeks before the test was administered to the students.

"It is through this kind of commitment that we as a district will succeed in creating and maintaining a world-class instructional program that will successfully prepare our students for the future," said Superintendent John Thompson.

There were significant gains by students with disabilities (56 percent passage rate, up 11 points from last year), and English language learners (51 percent passed, 21 point gain from 2007). According to district officials, students with disabilities in Clayton County schools surpassed their statewide counterparts by one percentage point.

Overall, Clayton County saw improvements across the board at each high school, with the largest gains at North Clayton High School (seven percentage points), and Mt. Zion High School (five points).

Lovejoy and Morrow high schools each saw gains of four points, while Mundy's Mill High School had a three point boost; Riverdale and Jonesboro high schools increased passage rates by two points apiece, and Forest Park High School had a one point gain.

Shonda Shaw, the district's coordinator for secondary language arts, said the students who took the writing test this year had to take a mock writing assessment at the end of the 2007-08 school year. The assessments were reviewed by the same people who review the actual writing test for the state. Teachers reviewed the results so they would know where their students needed to make improvements before the test.

School system officials also had teachers review the grading rubric for the test with students, so the pupils would have an idea of what would be looked for in their writing performances, said Shaw. The language arts department also made sure teachers of students with disabilities and English language learners received the same training that other language arts teachers received.

Shaw pointed out that while the district is pleased with this year's results, they want to see the scores continue to go up. "Even though we were are only one point below the state passing rate, and our [students with disabilities] are a point above the state in their area, we need to continue to work on raising our scores," said Shaw.

"We also need to work on improving our scores for English language learners, who are still below the state's 60 percent passing rate for that demographic," Shaw added. "Our goal is to eventually have all of our students passing these tests."

Ray Hill, the principal at North Clayton, said the assessments, and subsequent meetings with language arts teachers, helped give the educators an idea of where the students were at as sophomores, and how they could improve their writing skills before taking the test.

The teachers then began having weekly meetings at the beginning of this school year, so the school could continue to monitor how the students are doing.

Here's how Georgia and Clayton County juniors did on the writing portion of the Georgia High School Graduation Test:

Georgia -- 91 percent passing rate (2 point improvement)

Clayton County -- 90 percent (+3 points)

Forest Park HS -- 84 percent (+1 point)

Jonesboro HS -- 91 percent (+2 points)

Lovejoy HS -- 89 percent (+4 points)

Morrow HS -- 88 percent (+4 points)

Mt. Zion HS -- 92 percent (+5 points)

Mundy's Mill HS -- 95 percent (+3 points)

North Clayton HS -- 92 percent (+7 points)

Riverdale HS -- 90 percent (+2 points)