By Curt Yeomans and Johnny Jackson
Students in Clayton and Henry counties caught up with -- and in many cases, surpassed -- the state's overall performance on the Georgia High School Writing Test this fall, data released this week by the Georgia Department of Education shows.
Statewide, 95.5 percent of first-time test-takers passed the test, which is up from 92 percent last year, according to figures provided by the state's education department.
In Clayton County Public Schools, 94.3 percent of first-time test-takers passed the test, which is up 4.3 percentage points from last year, according to state data. In Henry County Schools, the pass rate for first-time test-takers was 96.8 percent, which is up 2.8 percentage points from last year.
Officials in the two school systems expressed pleasure that the test results show their respective districts are making progress to move ahead of other Georgia school systems.
"While the state saw an increase in student performance with a four percentage point gain from 91 percent to 95 percent, our students' performance narrowed the gap this year between the district's pass rate, and the statewide pass rate, to one percentage point," said Diana Carry, the chief academic officer for Clayton County Public Schools.
Henry County Schools Superintendent, Michael Surma, added, "We're very proud in our improvement. Our school district is moving near the top of all school districts [in Georgia]."
The writing test is required, under Georgia law, as part of the Georgia High School Graduation Test, which is a test students take during their junior year of high school. It evaluates everything the students should have learned up to that point in high school, and carries the implication that failure will prevent a student from graduating from high school.
Students are scored on their grasp of writing skills, including grammar and mechanics. The maximum score a student can receive on the test, according to the Georgia Department of Education, is 350 points. To pass the test, students this year had to earn a score of at least 200 points, according to a statement from the education department.
In Clayton County, the number of students passing the writing test went up, at every school that had past scores to compare to this year's results. This year marked the first time Charles R. Drew High School, which opened in 2009, had students taking the test.
School pass rates are as follows: Mt. Zion High School had the district's highest pass rate (96.3 percent, up 5.3 percentage points from last year), followed by North Clayton High School (95.9 percent, up 2.9 points), Charles R. Drew High School (95.1 percent), Lovejoy High School (95 percent, up 8 points), Riverdale High School (95 percent, up 5 points), Forest Park High School (93.5 percent, up 4.5 points), Morrow High School (92.9 percent, up 6.9 points), Mundy's Mill High School (92.9 percent, up 0.9 points), and Jonesboro High School (92.1 percent, up 4.1 points).
"It is through this kind of commitment that the district will succeed in creating and maintaining an instructional program that will successfully prepare our students for a future in the global economy," said Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent, Edmond Heatley.
In Henry County, Union Grove High School led the way with a 98.2 percent pass rate, which is up 0.2 percentage points from last year.
"Of particular celebration for [the school district] is the sustained excellence of Union Grove High School of maintaining 98 percent of students meeting and exceeding performance standards," said Tony Pickett, Henry County Schools' executive assistant to the Office of the Superintendent, in a prepared statement.
Union Grove was followed by Luella High School (97.9 percent, up 1.9 percentage points), Ola High School (97.7 percent, up 2.7 points), Woodland High School (97.6 percent, up 5.6 points), Eagle's Landing High School (97 percent, up 3 points), Stockbridge High School (96.3 percent, up 5.3 points), Dutchtown High School (95.4 percent, up 3.4 points), Locust Grove High School (94.5 percent, down 2.5 points), Henry County High School (94.4 percent, up 2.4 points), and Patrick Henry High School (93.9 percent, up 6.9 points).
"We're really proud of those schools that have maintained high performance rates, and those schools that have really improved," Surma said. "It shows the hard work of our teachers who work with our students on a daily basis."
State Superintendent of Schools, Brad Bryant, said he was pleased to see Georgia students, as a whole, making gains on the writing test this year. He said the concepts and skills taught to students to prepare them for the test will help them down the road, after they graduate from high school, when they engage in higher education, and professional pursuits.
"Good writing skills are critical to the future success of our students," Bryant said. "I am very pleased to see this improvement. Our students, teachers and administrators should be very proud of these results because they are getting the job done under the Georgia Performance Standards."