By Johnny Jackson
Moyosore Akintunde said she has grown more confident in recent weeks, preparing for the upcoming Georgia High School Graduation Test (GHSGT).
"It's known to be an intimidating test," said Akintunde, 17. "It's intimidating because you've been working towards this since you've been in school. It determines whether you get a diploma or a certificate of attendance, and everyone wants to graduate high school."
Akintunde is junior class president at Stockbridge High School. She, and thousands of others in Henry County, Clayton County, and the rest of the state, will be involved in testing for the state graduation examination next week, March 21-24, according to school officials.
The spring exam, also known as the GHSGT, tests students in four different content areas: math, science, social studies and English.
Akintunde acknowledged that the GHSGT is similar to college entrance exams, taken by college bound high schoolers, in that it can be stressful. However, she said, students tend to regard their performance on the GHSGT as having far-reaching consequences. High scores on college entrance exams are important considerations in the college-admissions process, but more is at stake next week, according to Stockbridge High School Principal Eric Watson.
GHSGT performance, he said, is a factor in determining schools' Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) status, and helps measure students' qualifications toward high school graduation.
"What's at stake makes it the single most important test for a student in their high school career," he said. "No matter what you make on the college entrance exam, you can't move forward until you pass the graduation tests."
Watson said high schools around the state have been preparing their students for the GHSGT, by providing prep classes and afterschool-tutoring sessions. At Stockbridge, school officials have been reminding their students about the seriousness of the examination. Watson said the school has had "a laser-like focus on instruction" this year. "We've also had clear curriculum focus, making sure each students gets what he or she needs."
Administrators, he said, have used academic data to identify students who may be struggling and need more instruction in a particular subject area, and have recommended them to take an additional course in that area.
"In the area of math and English, we want to decrease the number of students in our economically disadvantage subgroup and our students with disabilities subgroup," added Watson.
"We're all about standards-based instruction, and every student is aware of the standards," he continued. "Every student -- no matter what subgroup they are from -- they are expected to reach that standard. We want to decrease the number of students who do not pass the tests by 10 percent from last year."
About 33 percent of students at the school failed to meet state standards in math, according to AYP data from the Georgia Department of Education. Ten percent did not meet standards in English.
Watson said the school's goal, this year, is to surpass the state's 74.9 percent and 87.7 percent GHSGT passing thresholds in math and English, respectively. The school fell short of the threshold in math on the 2010 GHSGT, which contributed to it not meeting AYP.
Students have been given more frequent formative assessments, which help gauge in-class progress, explained Watson. "We have more of an emphasis on non-fiction writing, or writing to inform," he said. "We're having our kids write a summary of what they've learned in class. It's called writing to learn. Research shows if they actually write it down, it helps them process information better, if they are able to articulate it in writing."
Akintunde, who leads the 300-member junior class at Stockbridge, said the added study methods have helped her feel more confident about taking the GHSGT. "It does help," she said. "Coming into junior year, a lot of us were stressed ... It is stressful, at times, trying to manage extracurricular activities, doing class work, and studying for the SATs and ACTs. It takes months, little by little, so that you're not over-burdened with school and studying."
Akintunde has been attending Saturday tutoring sessions at the school in preparation for the GHSGT. She said the tests will mark a major point along her journey to one day become a pediatrician. "Graduation is the first step to a plethora of other things to be successful in life," she said.
Principal Watson said he hopes the school will continue to improve on the number of students it graduates. "Our graduation rate, last year, was 83.9 percent," he said. "Our goal is to increase that to 85 percent or higher this year."