The results show how students at each individual school performed across the five subject areas the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test assesses: reading, math, English/language arts, science and social studies.
Chris Ragsdale, interim superintendent for the Cobb County school district, said Tuesday school-by-school scores will allow the district to look at what efforts are working in the schools boasting improvements.
“There’s not a template that we can use for every school because what works well at one school may not work well at another school, or possibly any other school in the district,” Ragsdale said.
“The success that we’ve realized in our district is dependent totally on the work teachers do in the classroom each and every day,” he said.
Ragsdale said the diversity of his district’s schools prevents any one “methodology” from serving as the key to higher test scores.
He used the model of Walton High School, a “well-known, high-performing school” in the district, to illustrate the challenge.
“For example, the way Walton is choosing to teach math may not render the same results” in another Cobb high school, he said.
Ragsdale noted while district officials strive to replicate what successful elements they can use in schools needing improvement, there is no uniform approach to raising standardized test scores districtwide.
Students in grades three through eight take the CRCT in April. Third- graders must meet or exceed expectations on the reading section of the test in order to become fourth-graders, and fifth- and eighth-graders must meet or exceed expectations on both the math and reading sections in order to advance.
This year marked the first year Common Core standards were fully implemented in the state’s schools, said Randy Weiner, chairman of the Marietta Board of Education.
Weiner said the CRCT was more rigorous this year than it was in 2013, due to the new curriculum.
Dr. Emily Lembeck, superintendent of Marietta City schools, agreed she was pleased to see improvements within the school-specific score report given the more rigorous nature of this year’s test.
“We need to make sure we’re providing all the supports we can to help students meet and exceed those new, higher, more rigorous standards,” Lembeck said. “Students now in mathematics in elementary school need not just memorize facts, they need to be able to explain their answers, so there’s a lot of new ways of learning for students.”
Mary Elizabeth Davis, Cobb schools’ chief academic officer, stopped short of characterizing this year’s CRCT as more rigorous.
“The questions on previous CRCTs that aligned to new Common Core were the ones that were used,” she said of the test. “But it was never a new assessment for a new curriculum.” She added, to her knowledge, the CRCT creators put field test questions on this year’s assessment that ultimately did not factor into a student’s score.
The new assessment will hit Georgia schools for the first time next year, ending the CRCT’s nearly decade-long run as the bellwether of student and school progress.
Davis said the Georgia Milestones assessment will focus on incorporating problem-solving and critical-thinking skills through more open-ended questions.
Lembeck and Davis each said not much is known about the impending state-administered assessment at this point.
“From everything that we have been told, we can expect a large decline (in test scores),” Lembeck said of the Georgia Milestones test. “But we’re not going into it with that attitude.”
Lembeck said her district would approach the test knowing teachers and faculty would have to work hard to minimize the impact of the new test as much as possible.
“Whatever we achieve on that test will be a baseline for the future.”
Davis said the shift to the new curriculum has caused less of a dip in performance than previous modifications.
“There’s a transition period where educators are increasing their familiarity with those standards and what the level of mastery needs to look like at every grade level,” she said of Common Core’s effect on this year’s scores, adding the typical fall in performance accompanying such changes is followed by a recovery once the new standards are better understood by both students and teachers.
“However, we have seen that bounce-back happen faster than previous shifts in the curriculum.”
Ragsdale said he was cautious to highlight any surprises in the new testing data so soon after its release.
“In the coming weeks, we will analyze this data more closely to determine what we did well, and also what areas in specific schools may need to be targeted for improvement,” he said in a statement Tuesday evening. “Overall, though, I am very pleased with the performance of our students, and I am proud of our teachers for leading the classroom work that generates these results.”
Weiner noted student population, demographics and transiency rates all factor into whether individual schools out-perform their neighbors.
“Some individual schools performed very strongly again, and some were lackluster,” he said of Marietta City’s school-by-school results this year. “Some were a disappointment, while others had gains.”
Weiner touted Lockheed Elementary School’s improvements among a handful of other elementary schools whose students scored higher on their CRCTs this year than last.
More of Lockheed’s fifth-graders met or exceeded expectations for their grade level this year than last in every subject except math.
Fifth-graders at Lockheed made their greatest strides on the language section; 84 percent of students in the grade met or exceeded expectations in 2013, while 95 percent of fifth-graders tested this year hit that benchmark.
Weiner said he was “excited” to learn what changes Lockheed made in the past year to bring about such results.
He said the principals of each school in his district will begin to appear before the Marietta City school board this fall, where they will present the results of their test scores.
“They tell us what they’re doing right and what they’re going to improve on,” Weiner said of what the principals will demonstrate to the board during the meetings, which he estimated would last three or four months.
Thirteen percent fewer Marietta City fifth-graders exceeded expectations for their grade level on the math section this year than last in the district overall.
However, 12 percent more Marietta City eighth-graders surpassed expectations for their grade level this year in reading than they did in 2013.
Weiner said the district’s overall scores remained relatively flat between 2013 and 2014.
According to Lembeck, the percentage of students exceeding expectations this year fell by less than one percent.
“We really didn’t see any big dips or big gains,” Weiner said. “When you look at individual schools, it’s a mixed bag. So we’ll have to dig.”
Individual schools produced large swings in scores on different subjects and between different grade levels.
Hendricks Elementary School, for example, saw 14 percent fewer third-graders meet or exceed expectations for their level on the social studies section this year than last year, with the proportion of students passing that threshold falling from 85 percent in 2013 to 71 percent in 2014.
But seven percent more Hendricks fifth-graders met or exceeded expectations on the same subject this year, the percentage of students at this level meeting or exceeding the benchmark jumping from 74 percent in 2013 to 81 percent in 2014.
Greg Ewing, Cobb schools’ chief accountability and research officer, said the district would review students’ performance school by school to determine what levels of assistance and intervention each school would need.
“District administrators are reviewing data now with the superintendent to identify any areas of concern regarding test data,” Ewing said. “Once locations are identified, a team of support personnel will be asked to provide assistance based on student test data and identified needs from teachers and others.”
While Davis highlighted Cobb schools’ individual performances on the reading section, saying middle school reading scores were especially encouraging this year, she noted performance on the social studies section appeared to lag behind the other four subjects.
“In each one of the content areas that are tested, we are continuing to outperform state average, but we are outperforming the state average less in social studies than we are in other areas,” Davis said.
She said 90 percent, or higher, of students at all 27 middle schools in the Cobb district were proficient in reading on this year’s tests.
She attributed some of this achievement to students’ increased exposure to non-fiction texts, thanks to strong reading instruction.
“I really think that as a community of educators, we have increased our understanding of the level of mastery expected with new Common Core standards,” Davis said. “That’s an advantage as we go into the state-administered assessment.”
She noted district officials would be able to identify more trends within the school-based score reports in upcoming weeks.
“Schools themselves will be receiving their results, so we’ll have the opportunity to review historical trends with the principals and be able to provide some very specific reactions to that in the coming days and weeks.”