Mathews: Get schools on track

COVINGTON — Although the new school year has yet to begin for the Newton County School System, its new superintendent is challenging his school administrators and teachers to improve student scores on this year's high-stakes testing.

"If we score the same in the spring of 2011 (on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests and the Georgia High School Graduation Tests) as we scored in the spring of 2010, only four Newton County schools are on track to make Adequate Yearly Progress," said Superintendent Gary Mathews in his first "End-of-Month Notes" that last week were electronically sent to Newton County educators. "Put another way, 19 schools, unless improvements in practice are made in this coming school year, are in danger of not making AYP in 2011."

This year's system-level results for the CRCT show that the average of first- through eighth-grade students in NCSS to meet or exceed standards, or pass the test, were below state pass averages in all except one of 36 areas of the test; the one area — eighth-grade English — was the same pass rate as the state average, according to the Georgia Department of Education.

Nearly 69 percent of all Newton County 11th-graders taking the GHSGT students passed the math portion of the test and more than 89 percent passed the English language arts portion this year, according to AYP charts.

Since 2001, under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools and school systems across the nation are required to meet a certain set of standards based on scores and attendance and participation on the CRCT and GHSGT, as well as other collected data like elementary school absenteeism and a high school's graduation rate.

It also analyzes several subgroups like Students With Disabilities, Economically Disadvantaged and those in various race categories.

Each year, those standards may increase in various areas.

The preliminary report of Adequate Yearly Progress shows that 15 of the schools in the Newton County School System met the state's AYP requirements this year, but the remaining eight did not, placing four on the Needs Improvement list. The district as a whole also did not meet AYP.

Compared to the 2008-09 school year, Mathews said the CRCT saw improvements in 33 of 36 instances, but the GHSGT saw declines by 4 percent in English and math, 13 percent in social studies, 3 percent in science and 5 percent in writing.

As a result of the scores, Mathews suggested to principals the following for consideration for their schools:

• Make sure each teacher possesses and understands the most recent CRCT or GHSGT results for his or her school, subject area and students.

• Make sure every teacher has the Georgia Performance Standards and the appropriate curriculum map or state framework available before students arrive.

• Make sure the faculty is in a mindset to monitor student progress on the GPS throughout the school year and intervene accordingly.

• When it comes to student achievement, offer no excuse of merit.

He said universal screening instruments and progress monitoring exams will be used during the school year to get a look at student knowledge and skills and identify students who need intervention.

"We have neighbors in a nearby county even more at risk in their student demographics whose students have performed very well over a long period of time," Mathews said, referring to Rockdale County Public Schools, which has a high number of economically disadvantaged and minority subgroups, and still managed to meet AYP at all of its schools for the last two years and as a system for the past five years. "While we have taught some students very well in NCSS, we haven't taught others satisfactorily. State and federal accountability systems, which focus on all groups of learners, have made that painfully clear."

He said NCSS must bridge the gap between the system and state results and must halt declining scores, using high probability instructional strategies.

"We will get there," Mathews said. "Others just like us have. And we must."