Science continues to be the thorn in the sides of students in Richmond and Columbia counties who take the state-required exit exam for the first time.
Results of the most recent Georgia High School Graduation Test show students' lowest passing rate locally, and across the state, is in science.
While Columbia County students maintain an A average - with more than 90 percent passing in writing, language arts, math and social studies - the percentage of students passing science is a B average, or 87 percent, down one point from last year.
In Richmond County, though five schools increased their averages in science from last year, the school district is still struggling with a D average, or 61 percent - down two points from last year.
The state average in science is 73 percent, down one point from last year.
School officials say the science portion is hardest because students are having to comprehend courses - like physical science and biology - that they took years earlier.
"Some students may not have performed well because they may not have retained the skills that they learned two or three years earlier," said Carol Rountree, director of guidance and testing for Richmond County schools.
"In language arts, you continue to reinforce skills every year because you're looking at a skill area. In science, you're looking at more content."
High school students in Georgia are required to pass all portions of the exit exam to receive a diploma. Students get their first shot at the writing portion in the fall of their junior year. They first test in the other four sections during the spring of their junior year. Students then have four additional opportunities - summer, fall, winter and spring - to pass each section of the test before they graduate.
State school officials have recommended students take an end-of-year test, which Mrs. Rountree says should help students.
"The state would create the end-of-course test," she said. "By doing that, the students would have the objectives for that particular class and once they've mastered that, they would have a test."
Mrs. Rountree says this would be different from a final exam because it would be a state test, not one that could vary from teacher to teacher.
In Richmond County, most of the 2,218 students who took the test were juniors. But students who have acquired three years of high school and at least nine credits and are not necessarily juniors also may take the test.
Of the 2,218 students tested in Richmond County, 60 percent passed all sections; 19 percent passed three sections; 11 percent passed two portions of the test and 4 percent failed all portions.
Columbia County schools Superintendent Tommy Price said the school system had a good showing on the most recent test.
In Columbia County, 98 percent passed the English language arts portion; 97 percent passed the math portion; 94 percent passed social studies; 98 percent passed writing and 87 percent passed science.
"It's really kind of a basic skills test," Mr. Price said. "Of course, you want to see a high percentage of your kids passing this thing. We'd want preferably 100 percent passing."
Because Richmond and Columbia counties have different types of students - Richmond, mostly inner-city and Columbia, mostly suburban - it would be unfair to compare the schools, officials said.
The Georgia Department of Education compares Richmond County to 11 systems including Atlanta city schools and systems in DeKalb, Bibb, Chatham and Muscogee counties.
"Any comparison which does not take under consideration the demographics has not made an allowance for the factors that contribute to the way students score," Mrs. Rountree said. "To make a comparison that says we are not as good as a neighboring county, which has different demographics, does not address the fact that our students have performed well based on equal ground."
In Richmond and Columbia counties, results of tests in the five subject areas show:
Two Richmond County high schools, Glenn Hills and T.W. Josey, increased scores in writing. Two of Columbia County's four high schools increased their writing scores.
Only two schools improved their language arts scores: George P. Butler and Lucy C. Laney high schools. John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School's score remained the same.
Language arts is Richmond County's best subject, where 93 percent of students passed. Language arts and writing proved the best areas for Columbia County students with a 98 percent passing rate. However, the average in three of the county's high schools dropped this year.
Academy of Richmond County High School is the only school that lost points in math. A.R. Johnson Health Science and Engineering Magnet High School stayed the same. In Columbia County, Evans, Greenbrier and Lakeside high schools improved, while Harlem High's score dropped.
Social studies averages at five Richmond County high schools went up while two schools' averages remained the same and one declined. All of Columbia County's high schools improved their social studies scores.
Science scores increased at five Richmond County high schools and declined at four. In Columbia County, Greenbrier High's science score improved, while the other three schools dropped.
Juniors at Cross Creek, Richmond County's newest high school, took the test for the first time this year and do not have scores to compare to previous years. However, they are keeping with the trend in science with a 68 average.
"It's a fluctuation that you can expect because you're testing new groups of students each year," Mrs. Rountree said. "Our performance mirrors the state's. We usually see a trend every year."
Staff Writer Peggy Ussery contributed to this article.
Reach Faith Johnson at (706) 823-3765 or firstname.lastname@example.org.