ATLANTA — Georgia students have performed better on state standardized tests for the third year in a row, data released Thursday show.
The Georgia Department of Education data show improvement in nearly every subject and grade level on this spring's Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests. For eighth-grade math, the pass rate increased to 78 percent, up from 62 percent in 2008 and 74 percent last year.
Two tests saw slight declines in pass rates: fourth-grade reading and sixth-grade English language arts. Both dropped 1 percentage point.
"I am encouraged that the CRCT results show many more of our students mastering a more rigorous curriculum," Georgia schools Superintendent John Barge said in a statement. "The credit for these tremendous results goes back to the local level, where they have raised the bar for all students."
The annual tests for first- through eighth-graders in Georgia cover subjects including math, reading, English language arts, science and social studies. Last year, 34 tests were given, but that is down to 30 this year after the state eliminated funding for first-and second-grade tests.
The scores are part of what Georgia uses to calculate progress under the standards of the federal No Child Left Behind law. Schools that consistently perform badly on the measurements face sanctions such as required tutoring for students and allowing parents to transfer their children to higher performing schools.
The tests also determine whether third-, fifth- and eighth-graders should be promoted to the next grade.
Math has been a particularly tough subject for Georgia students to master, but test scores indicate that's changing in most grades.
The data show that the pass rate for fifth-grade math improved 5 percentage points to 87 percent. That's up from 72 percent in 2008.
The pass rate for seventh-grade math is up 4 percentage points to 89 percent, while fourth-grade saw the same increase, hitting 81 percent.
Other big jumps include sixth-grade social studies, up 8 percentage points to 72 percent passing, and sixth-grade reading, up to 94 from 91 percent passing.
While the improved scores are good news, some educators say they are worried that the federal law puts too much emphasis on tests and not enough on what students are learning.
"I'm glad scores are improved but afraid the tests are taking more and more time away from actual teaching and learning and telling us less and less about the quality of our educational system and the engagement levels of our students," said Tim Callahan, spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, which has 81,000 members across the state.
The CRCT has come under scrutiny in recent years after a state review last year put about 200 schools under suspicion of cheating on the tests the previous year. Teachers and administrators were accused of changing answers after students had handed in their exams to improve the schools' chances of meeting federal benchmarks.
That led to state monitors in classrooms during test-taking in some schools, and some educators under suspicion of cheating weren't allowed to administer tests.