COVINGTON -- Newton County School System Superintendent Gary Mathews met with a group of educational stakeholders Tuesday morning for his annual Superintendent's Community Leadership Forum.
Earlier this year, Mathews invited members from each school's PTO and other local business and organization leaders to review last school year's progress and look forward to current initiatives.
About 40 individuals attended the forum, including Newton County Board of Education Chair Eddie Johnson, members of the Newton County Chamber of Commerce and the Newton County Arts Association and several parents and PTO members.
Mathews presented data to those in attendance, showing that although his students on average are not yet in line with the state on college entrance exams like the SAT and ACT, scores are improving. He pointed out that research shows that systems with a high free and reduced lunch rate -- Newton's is about 70 percent -- tend to have lower test scores since those students tend to have less background knowledge and parental support at home.
"We're not where we want to be, but we're not where we were either," he said.
He showed school scores and charts that showed progress on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, which elementary and middle school students take, and End of Course Tests, which high school students take. He acknowledged that NCSS students, like students across the state, are struggling especially in math with a change of curriculum, but even that is improving.
"You're not going to find a school system that jumps 25 points. I'm going to be suspect every time I see that. You have to show steady progress," Mathews said.
He explained to guests how Georgia is moving from the federal No Child Left Behind to a different accountability system, which groups schools by Reward Schools for being high performance schools, Priority Schools for being the lowest 5 percent of achieving schools across the state, Focus Schools for being in the bottom 10 percent of Title I schools and Alert Schools for having alerts in certain areas like graduation rates. NCSS currently has one Priority School and two Focus Schools; the Reward Schools have yet to be identified.
Mathews explained that under Georgia's new College & Career Ready Performance Index that elementary, middle and high schools will be scored on a 100-point scale based on test scores, industry credentials earned at the high school level and counseling and guidance in the lower grades, among other factors. The state is expected to release the scores either before the end of this calendar year or the end of this school year.
Mathews told the group how Georgia's new curriculum will hold students to "much higher standards" compared to previous ones.
"This is a very tough haul," he said. "It's very rigorous and more difficult than we've ever asked our kids to perform before."
Students will be reading two or three grade levels above where they currently are reading, and they will be given new types of assessments beginning in the 2014-15 school year that will allow classrooms, systems and states to be compared to classrooms and systems across 20 other states, he said.
"It's a true apples to apples comparison," Mathews said.