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Clayton posts overall gains on ACT scores

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton County Public Schools students, who took the ACT last year, posted gains in the district's average composite score on the college admission test, but a continued slide in the area of English is keeping the school system from claiming improvements in that important area.

The district's average composite score, during the 2009-2010 school year, was a 17.5, which is up ever so slightly from the average score of 17.3 posted during the 2008-2009 school year.

The score is 3.2 points below the state's average score of 20.7. The national average composite score is 21.

The district is greeting the overall composite score increase with a sense of pleasure. That pleasure, however, is accompanied by a renewed sense that more rigor is needed in the classroom, according to School System Director of Special Projects Delphia Young. As part of her position, Young oversees academic assessments and evaluations.

"We are pleased with the growth we have seen in many areas," Young said. "In those areas where we are not seeing growth, we are going to find out the cause, and introduce more rigor into the classroom."

Overall, school system and state scores, from the last five years (provided by the district), show that the achievement gap between Clayton County, and the rest of the state has widened, even though the county was able to catch up a little bit this past school year.

During the 2005-2006 school year, Clayton County Public Schools' average ACT composite score was 17.3, which was 2.9 points below the state average that year of 20.2. Over the next three school years, however, the district's scores remained largely stagnant, and the state's scores got better.

The gap widened until the 2008-2009 school year, when there was a 3.3 point gap between the district's average score (17.3), and the state's score (20.6). Then, Clayton County Schools narrowed the gap slightly, to 3.2 points, by posting a 17.5 average score, compared to the state's average score of 20.7.

The district's best showing against the state during the past school year was in the area of science. On the science section of the ACT, the average score of 17.8, was 2.7 points behind the state's 20.5.

On the mathematics section of the test, the district's average of 17.6, is 3.1 points behind the state's average of 20.7. On the reading section, the district's 17.6, is 3.3 points behind the state's average score. On the English section, however, the district's average score (16.4) trails the state's by 3.7 points.

The school-by-school scores show Lovejoy High School led the district with an average composite score of 18 (up 0.5 points from the 2008-2009 school year).

Lovejoy was followed by Riverdale High School (17.6, up 0.4 points); Mundy's Mill High School (17.5, up 0.5 points); Forest Park High School (17.4, up 0.6 points); Morrow High School (17.4, up 0.5 points); Jonesboro High School (17, down 1.1 points); Mt. Zion High School (17, down 0.7 points); and North Clayton High School (16.8, down 1.4 points).

Young said the school district is hoping to improve students' readiness with the introduction of "Rigor Meters" in classrooms this year. She said the meters are being introduced in kindergarten through twelfth grades. The meters are a scale which shows how well students understand, and are mastering their subjects, Young said.

She said it follows Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning Domains, which is a scale of learning, that ranges from a person's remembering something, to being able to use what he, or she, has learned to create something. "The 'Rigor Meter' helps the classroom teacher assess where the depth of knowledge, and level of Bloom's Taxonomy, is," Young said.

The meters are broken up into four levels. "Level 1 is simple recall, and is the least complex level," Young said. "The greatest complexity is your Level 4. This is where the students understand the subject, and are creating things with that knowledge."

Young said the district wants to see students reach the upper levels of the meter by the end of each school year. "The more students are reaching levels 3 and 4, the better prepared they will be to take, and pass, standardized tests," she added.

The big mystery for the district, however, is coming up with an answer to the question of "What is happening in English?"

Clayton students made gains in the areas of mathematics (up by 0.2 points), reading (up by 0.3 points) and science (0.2). English, however, proved to be the district's Achilles heel. The Clayton County average ACT score in English, during the past school year, was a 16.4, compared to the district's average score of 16.5 during the 2008-2009 school year.

A comparison of the district's average scores, over the last five school years, shows that, with the exception of the 2007-2008 school year, the scores on the English section of the ACT have been in decline.

During the 2005-2006 school year, the district's average English score was a 16.5, and that went down by 0.2 points the following year. The average score then increased -- as a one-year blip -- peaking at 16.7, during the 2007-2008 school year. But that was followed by a slide over the last two years.

Young said the district's administration does not, yet, have an answer for why there is a slide in English results.

The district's new Language Arts Coordinator, Ebony Thomas (who was previously a literacy coach at Forest Park Middle School), just started this month, and has not had a chance to see the results, let alone review them, Young said.