For the first time, the Georgia High School Graduation Test was not used as an accountability measure for schools across the state in the 2011-12 school year, and the change came with growing pains locally, officials said.
Until last year, 11th-graders had to pass the GHSGT, which covers four content areas, to earn a diploma. The GHSGT was also used to measure a school’s Adequate Yearly Progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
But in April 2011, amid the state’s transition away from NCLB, the Georgia Department of Education voted to phase out the graduation test and rely on the End of Course Tests, an assessment in eight subjects taken by high school students.
Although students have taken both tests for more than a decade, many students and teachers put more emphasis on the graduation test because a student’s diploma depended on it, said Carol Rountree, the Richmond County School System’s director of student services. When students took the EOCT this spring, it was difficult getting them to understand the new emphasis on the EOCT.
“It’s taken a little while for that message to filter, that (the EOCT) is now a measurement that is going to be significant,” Rountree said.
However, it’s not that the EOCT did not count before, said Melissa Fincher, the associate superintendent for assessment and accountability of the Georgia Department of Education.
While students did not have to pass the EOCT to graduate, the scores in each of the eight EOCT tests traditionally counted for 15 percent of a student’s final course grade. That weight increased to 20 percent for students who entered high school for the first time last year.
Fincher said several school districts reported difficulty communicating the new significance of the EOCT to students.
“Getting students to take (the EOCT) more seriously may be a struggle for some schools,” Fincher said. “Some schools have been taking it seriously all along. ... It’s a more rigorous assessment than the GHSGT, so we certainly see that in the results, with fewer students making that passing grade. But we’re expecting that to improve.”
Rountree said preliminary EOCT results, which were presented to the Richmond County Board of Education June 12, were proof of the transition’s difficulty.
Although the results are unofficial, several subject areas have low passing rates, particularly in math.
Several Richmond County board members voiced concerns about the low scores and said they hoped to see drastic improvements when the final scores are calculated and released later this summer.
“I could teach better than this,” said board member Frank Dolan. “You’ve got other numbers that just jump off the page as being totally awful.”