Schools are graduating more students than ever before, he said, and Georgia is the only state in the country that showed increases on six standardized tests such as Advanced Placement exams and the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2011.
“We’re headed in the right direction,” Barge said. “We haven’t arrived, but the good news is the things that we’re doing with a more rigorous curriculum are
Barge discussed academics, charter school legislation and graduation rates with the Richmond County Board of Education during a visit organized by the local legislative delegation.
About 60 principals, teachers and community members heard his comments, which focused on education statewide rather than just Richmond County.
With concerns about continued state funding cuts and the proposed charter school legislation steering money away from local school districts, board member Jack Padgett said the state’s educational priorities mirror concerns in Augusta.
“I think overall his concerns were pertinent to what we’re doing here,” Padgett said.
Barge said Georgia is gradually closing the achievement gap between students of all races and increasing the number of black students who graduate on time. There is an 8 percent gap between the state’s 67 percent graduation rate and the black graduation rate, but a
change in the approach to curriculum should help that, he said.
Georgia is implementing the College and Career Ready Performance Index, which will allow students to choose career paths in high school that align with their interests, among other initiatives.
Educators hope that specialized learning will keep students interested in school and reduce dropouts.
“An overwhelming number will tell you that they dropped out of high school because they find it unrelentingly boring and irrelevant to what they want to do,” Barge said. “We can keep children in school if we help identify their interests and their passion and we help plan
an academic program for them that guides them down a path to be successful in that area.”
Barge said Georgia continues to have achievement gaps in subjects and demographics but is closing
those gaps at a more rapid rate than the national average.
In 2012, Georgia had a 13.5 percent increase in the amount of students passing AP exams and earning college credit. The state’s black students had a 17 percent increase from the previous year.
The state ranked 13th in the nation in 2011 for students passing AP exams. The College Board will not release the 2012 rankings until February.
In other standardized tests, Georgia is doing better than it might appear, Barge said.
Georgia ranked 48th in the nation for SAT scores in 2011, but Barge said that ranking portrays an inaccurate picture because students are not required to take the exam.
In 2011, 80 percent of Georgia’s students took the exam, while states ranking near the top had 5 percent of its students participate.
Barge said he isolated the scores of the Georgia students who performed in the top 5 percent in 2011, and the new calculation was
several hundred points ahead of the top-ranking states that had 5 percent participation.
“Not to say we’re there, guys, not to say we’re perfect, but if you want to get close to an apples-to-apples comparison, we’re probably doing pretty well compared to us ranking with other states – if not better,” he said.
While the nation saw a
2 percent drop in SAT scores in 2011, Barge said, Georgia had a seven-point gain in the average score and a one-point increase in participation.
Most of the questions from the audience focused on Barge’s stance against the charter school constitutional amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot. The amendment would allow the state to form a committee to approve charter schools against the wishes of local school boards, circumventing the current process for local boards and the state board to approve charters.
Barge said that until all school districts in Georgia are back to 180-day school years and fewer districts are on the verge of bankruptcy, he cannot support the legislation.