Results released Monday from the 2014-15 Georgia Milestones tests show that the majority of Bulloch County students, like the majority of their peers across the state, did not achieve state learning standards in English, math, science and social studies as measured by the new tests.
However, as state and local education officials have been reminding parents, the last school year's results will not count for promotion from grade to grade. In the future, Georgia Milestones, like the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests that it replaced, will be a gateway test students need to pass for promotion from the third, fifth and eighth grades. The Milestones program also includes end-of-course tests in ninth through 12th grades.
But last year was a trial run for the tests, their results providing a baseline for the future. Schools are being held accountable for growth in learning, but not based directly on this set of Georgia Milestones scores.
"This initial data gives us only part of our student performance picture, as student growth results will not be available for several months," Bulloch County Schools Superintendent Charles Wilson said in a press release. "However, we will use what we have to inform our current efforts."
Georgia Milestones end-of-grade tests administered in spring 2016 will be used for promotion and retention. The high school end-of-course test scores, beginning with winter 2015, will also count as 20 percent of students' grades in certain subjects, noted Hayley Greene, public relations specialist for the Bulloch County Schools.
In more than half of the tested grades, local students outperformed the state. But this is one instance when neither local nor state education officials are touting comparisons. Instead, they are talking about Georgia Milestones as part of a move to hold schools to more rigorous standards and saying it will help guide ongoing efforts to improve.
"What is important to look for at this point are the bright spots and warning signals showing up in the initial results, along with predictive data we are collecting," Wilson said. "We have to use the key processes we put in place to investigate what caused positive and negative patterns. We have to use what works and remove what doesn't."
The Georgia Milestones program reports scores in four success levels: Beginning Learner, Developing Learner, Proficient Learner and Distinguished Learner.
Only students scoring at the top two levels, Proficient Learners and Distinguished Learners, are meeting the benchmarks set for these tests. Combined, these are like the "meets or exceeds" levels on the old CRCTs, but the percentage of test questions students must answer correctly to reach these levels on Georgia Milestones is higher than it was on the CRCTs.
Of Bulloch County's third-graders, 39 percent scored at least the proficient level, or passing, in English-language arts. Statewide, 37 percent of students scored proficient or better. In math, 41 percent of Bulloch students in third grade scored proficient or better, compared to 38 percent statewide.
In science, 35 percent of Bulloch third-graders met the standard as tested, compared to 34 percent statewide. In third-grade social studies, 32 percent of Bulloch students scored proficient or better, compared to the state's 30 percent.
Fifth-grade proficient-or-better rates for Bulloch County were 42 percent in English, 38 percent in math, 38 percent in science and 32 percent in social studies. Statewide, the combined proficient and distinguished rates were 39 percent in English, 38 percent in math, 36 percent in science and 29 percent in social studies.
The eighth-grade proficient-or-better rates for Bulloch County were 39 percent in English, 40 percent in math, 26 percent in science and 34 percent in social studies. Statewide, the combined proficient and distinguished rates were 39 percent in English, 37 percent in math, 32 percent in science and 33 percent in social studies.
Charts released by the Bulloch County Schools with the rates of students achieving the standards for grades 3-12, and for each of the 15 schools separately, can be found online at www.bulloch.k12.ga.us/testing.
‘A higher bar'
The Georgia Department of Education released statewide results in early September, and provided school scores to the districts a couple of weeks ago, but directed that they not be made public until Monday.
"These results show a lower level of student proficiency than Georgians are used to seeing, but that does not mean Georgia students know less or that teachers are not doing a great job - it means they've been asked to clear a higher bar," State School Superintendent Richard Woods said in releasing the state scores.
Georgia's previous elementary and middle school tests, the CRCTs, "set some of the lowest expectations for student proficiency in the nation, and that cannot continue," Woods said. "Georgia Milestones sets higher standards for our students and evens the playing field with the rest of the nation - and that's essential if our students are going to succeed in college and their chosen careers."
The CRCTs were in use for more than 10 years before they were replaced, and the Georgia Milestones program also replaces previous end-of-course tests and writing assessments.
Unlike the multiple-choice CRCTs, the Milestones tests include some open-ended questions requiring written responses. This places a premium on literacy skills and may be reflected in lower scores for schools with higher poverty rates, more students with special needs or more students for whom English is not their home language, Greene said.
The Bulloch County Schools charts also include reading scores separate from the English-language arts scores for third through eighth grades. A majority of local students and students statewide reached the reading standards, but the Georgia Department of Education did not report schools' reading scores separate from their English-language arts scores.
However, future reading scores will be used to determine retention and promotion from third, fifth and eighth grades, Greene noted.
Staff writer Al Hackle, who assembled this report, may be reached at (912) 489-9458.