The implementation of Georgia’s new school accountability measure will bring with it a spike in the difficulty of standardized tests over the next few years, and Richmond County is working to get prepared.
The Richmond County School System has made gradual improvements on the high school End of Course Tests and Criterion Referenced Competency Tests for elementary and middle grades, but still lags behind the state average in passing rates.
To help keep the district from slipping further behind when the rigor of testing and curriculum increases, Superintendent Frank Roberson’s cabinet has developed a plan to better monitor student achievement data and work with principals on a consistent leadership protocol for their schools. It includes making sure data analysis is conducted at monthly meetings between principals and Roberson’s cabinet and keeping track of where Richmond County stands among a peer group of 11 other districts.
“We wanted to set some goals and create a sense of direction,” said Carol Rountree, assistant superintendent of student services. “Keeping a focus, a common focus, it’s not always easy so having a plan in front of us at all times means we do have a common goal as a system and we’re able to move in the same direction simultaneously.”
The cabinet created a peer group of 11 districts that are comparable to Richmond County in size, socioeconomic status or are a fellow Race to the Top district. Currently Richmond County scores at the bottom in almost all CRCT subjects for fifth and eighth grades for average scores and percent passing.
Rountree said the cabinet will analyze how Augusta compares to these areas annually as standardized test scores are released.
“This is going to be our yardstick for some years to come,” Rountree told board of education members Thursday. “We’re going to keep them in our sights and use them as somewhat of a barometer for how we’re moving forward.”
The district will also publish an analysis twice a year of where the system is performing in regard to 15- and 30-day assessments, attendance, discipline and other factors that indicate growth.
And although Rountree said monthly meetings with principals are nothing new, the agendas for those meetings are constantly changing. With this new initiative, the cabinet will require a review of student data to be on every agenda as well as the discussion of the leadership protocol.
When Georgia switched to its new accountability system this year, the College and Career Ready Performance Index, the move came with a requirement to increase the expectations for students, which means more rigorous assessments.
Melissa Fincher, the state associate superintendent for assessment and accountability, said the change in expectations is partially a result of a demand from industry and businesses across the country that students are not adequately prepared for life after high school.
“Assessments are being redesigned to really send clear and consistent messages on where kids are on the path to being college- and career-ready,” Fincher said.
Content will be more rigorous but the makeup of the exams will change as well. In addition to multiple choice questions, students will be expected to show their work on certain questions and explain the rationale behind their answers, Fincher said.
The state debuted these higher expectations last year with a new algebra test, which only 37 percent of students statewide passed. The revised tests will be distributed in all subjects in 2014-15, and Fincher said she expects an adjustment period for students, teachers and districts as a whole.
“We are preparing items as a resource for districts to use instructionally in the classrooms now that they can work on getting students ready,” she said.
Given the challenges ahead, Richmond County Board of Education member Eloise Curtis said she is glad to see Roberson’s cabinet develop a plan to better monitor student data – which can warn teachers and administrators when any student falls behind in a particular area.
“It’s a good thing because it’s too late when you find out later that they’re not on track,” Curtis said. “Now we will be able to better inform parents and teachers on what’s going on with their students.”