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Social studies scores drop on graduation test

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Henry County high school students, along with others state-wide, fell off pace in social studies on Georgia's standardized graduation exam.

Eleventh-grade, first-time test takers in the Henry County School System's regular education program passed the social studies portion of the Georgia High School Graduation Test (GHSGT) at an 86-percent rate, according to data provided by the school system.

The results are markedly lower than in years past. Last year, the school system reported a 93-percent pass rate on the social studies section. In 2007-08, the rate was 92 percent, and in 2006-07, it was 93 percent.

"GHSGT results for social studies reflect the increased rigor of the Georgia Performance Standard [curriculum]," said Terris Ross, Henry's coordinator of assessment, evaluation and development.

Those new curriculum standards were included in this year's GHSGT, and are typical of previously updated standardized exams, according to the 2010 Georgia teacher of the year, Gwen Desselle, a social studies teacher at Colquitt County High School in Moultrie, Ga.

"Scores frequently decline when new assessments are implemented," Desselle said. "This test is rigorous, and as students and teachers become more familiar with the new content, scores will increase, just as they did with the previous version of the test, and students will be better prepared."

Meanwhile, student performance on the GHSGT continues to be at, or above, the state average, across all content areas in Henry County, according to Ross.

The Henry County School System reported that its regular education program students outperformed the state in English/language arts, science, and social studies.

"The overall pass rate in Henry County is above 90 percent in English/language arts, mathematics, and science," said Ross.

School system data revealed that 96 percent of Henry's test takers passed the GHSGT in English/language arts, compared to 93 percent of test takers state-wide. In science, 95 percent passed in Henry, against 93 percent state-wide. Eighty-six percent passed the social studies portion of the exam in Henry, compared to the 81-percent state average. Henry's performance in mathematics equaled the state average of 95 percent passing.

"These GHSGT results show that our students are continuing to meet and exceed standards with a more rigorous curriculum," said Henry County Schools Superintendent Michael Surma. "We believe the Georgia Performance Standards have improved teachers' and students' understanding of the knowledge and skills necessary, not only for success on the graduation test, but also to be adequately prepared for college and/or the world-of-work," added Surma.

The school system's scorecard, when compared to the new GHSGT results, show improvements in average pass rates for students in science, from 93 percent passing in 2008-09, to 95 percent passing this school year. The pass rate for Henry students in English/language arts in the regular education program remained at 96 percent over the same period.

GHSGT performance declined this year in mathematics, as 95 percent of 11th-grade, first-time test takers passed the exam. Pupils passed the mathematics portion of the graduation exam at a rate of 97 percent in 2008-09.

"We continue to focus efforts on increasing the number of students scoring at the highest performance levels," Ross said, "[and continue] reducing the achievement gap between all subgroups."