Six of the 10 high schools improved scores over last year, and three remained the same. A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet School dropped three percentage points to 96 percent passing.
School officials attributed Richmond County’s progress to a strong focus on writing early in high school and implementing literacy skills across all subjects. Though improvements are celebrated, the district is still working to bring Richmond County’s achievement rate closer to the state average of 95 percent passing on the first attempt.
“The higher percent passing, the fewer students we are going to have that will need remediation,” said Carol Rountree, the executive director for student services. “Writing expresses learning more than any other component when you think about it. If I can write, if I can capture the meaning of the concept and put it in my own words … then I really have a clear understanding of it.”
Students take the state writing test in 11th grade and have four chances to pass before graduation. The English/language arts, math, science and social studies components of the Georgia High School Graduation Test were phased out last year, but the writing portion is still required for a diploma.
Students are tested in the remaining subjects using End of Course Tests, which were taken along with the graduation test for years but are a more accurate way of measuring concept mastery, according to educators.
The largest gain in Richmond County was made at Butler High School, where students jumped nine percentage points to 87 percent passing.
Six other high schools scored above the district average of 91 percent: Academy of Richmond County, Cross Creek, John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet, Hephzibah, A.R. Johnson and Westside.
T.W. Josey Comprehensive, Davidson and Glenn Hills high schools stayed consistent with 2011 scores.
Davidson Principal Vicky Addison said literacy skills must be emphasized early to develop strong writing skills in high school. At Davidson, the only school with a 100 percent passing rate on the writing test, sixth-grade English classes are 90 minutes long, 30 minutes longer than other subjects.
Because all juniors and seniors take Advanced Placement English, Davidson English teachers attend pre-AP conferences and regular professional development to learn better strategies for helping students.
“Writing is that important, so we emphasize it early,” Addison said. “It’s not the only skill you need to know, but it’s always good to be able to explain what you know. It’s one thing to know something; it’s another thing to express it.”
Superintendent Frank Roberson said the improved scores are proof students are getting better prepared for life after high school.
“For the past two years we have increased our emphasis on critical thinking and literacy across the
curriculum,” Roberson said in a news release. “This is encouraging news.
“It dictates that our focus on literacy through spoken and written communications should continue at every level so that we are able to graduate students who demonstrate excellence in college and career skills.”