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Superintendent Cox's Statement on Preliminary CRCT Results

By Kathy Cox  State Superintendent of Schools   About 92 percent of last year's graduating seniors passed the High School Graduation Test in Mathematics on the first try. That appears to be very good news.   Yet, the average math SAT scores of those same seniors were second lowest in the nation. Something doesn't match up.   While test scores don't tell the entire story, these results make it clear that, as a state, we have not set our expectations high enough in mathematics. The result is that our students pass state tests, but lag way behind on national exams and, more importantly, are not prepared for college or the workplace.   This has to change.   Preparing our students for the 21st century was the motivation for rewriting our mathematics standards. Mathematics not only teaches mathematics skills, but teaches students to think in an analytical way that is critical in this global economy.   For the past three years, we have been implementing our new mathematics curriculum in middle grades. We started with sixth-graders in 2005-2006 and have phased the new curriculum in a year at a time.   The new Georgia Performance Standards for Mathematics are much more rigorous than the math our students have received in the past. Previously, only a fraction of our students took algebra or geometry in middle school. Now, every student is being exposed to algebra and geometry -- as well as statistics -- by the time they finish grade 8.   This is right in line with what a panel of national experts said is the best way to teach math to our students.   The National Mathematics Advisory Panel wrote: "All school districts should ensure that all prepared students have access to an authentic algebra course — and should prepare more students than at present to enroll in such a course by Grade 8."   In Georgia, that is what we are doing.   Our teachers have done a tremendous job of implementing these new standards. Many of them have had to step out of their comfort zones and have done so with professionalism and excellence.   As we have implemented this new mathematics curriculum, we have aligned our Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests -- or CRCTs -- to these more focused and challenging standards. We have asked students to demonstrate higher order thinking on these tests and have set rigorous, but reasonable, cut scores.   Over the past several days, some systems have received student-level results from the 2008 CRCTs. While statewide and system-level data is not available yet, it appears about 62 percent of our students will pass the grade 8 math CRCT.   These results may be a surprise to some, but these figures are generally in line with what we have seen as we have transitioned to tests aligned to the new curriculum.   These results are also in line with what we are seeing on a national level. For instance, in 2007, about 64 percent of Georgia's 8th graders scored at basic levels or above on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), an exam given to a representative sample of students in each state.   I realize that a lot of students will have to re-test over the summer as, under state law, students in grades 5 and 8 must pass the CRCTs in mathematics and reading in order to be automatically promoted. This has taken some parents by surprise and as the mother of two school-age boys, I empathize with them.   We will work with our school systems to find as much flexibility as we can to accommodate parents and students who have already set their summer schedules. We are creating a central clearinghouse of on-line resources that students can use to prepare for the CRCT retests on our website, at www.georgiamath.org.   I'm confident that, with a little extra time, we will see many more of 8th graders pass the Math CRCT. And even those who don't pass the retest can be promoted if a meeting is held with the parents and school officials. In many cases, students are promoted after this meeting, but specific areas where they may need help are identified.   I am also confident that our results will only get better as years go on, just as they have in other grades. For instance, 62 percent of our sixth-graders passed the new mathematics CRCT two years ago. This year, we anticipate the pass rate to be closer to 70 percent.   While this subject is charged with emotion, we must keep our eye on the bigger picture. Our job in public education is to prepare our students to be successful in life after they graduate. While it would be easier to set the bar low and feel good about the results, such an attitude would be a disservice to our students.   We must send the message to our students loud and clear that we expect them to learn at high levels and that we know they can do it.    SOCIAL STUDIES RESULTS   The issues surrounding the social studies tests are completely separate from mathematics.   As student scores from the 2008 Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) are returned, it is clear that something is not right with the results in Social Studies for grades 6 and 7. It appears about 20 to 30 percent of our students will pass these two exams. Since these exams are aligned to our new curriculum for the first time, we anticipated a dip in the pass rate from previous years. However, these results are much lower than we expected.   I know the low pass rates on these tests are frustrating and upsetting for our parents, students and our hard-working social studies teachers. I sincerely apologize for any hurt this has caused. But I want to be clear: These results are not reflective of the excellence and the effort of our social studies teachers or our students.   Over the next few weeks, a committee of social studies teachers and curriculum experts will meet to go over our standards and assessments to determine why we saw such low results.   As a social studies teacher, it appears to me that in some areas, our social studies curriculum is too broad, while the questions on the test were more specific. This is not fair to the teachers or students. We will do much better going forward.   I will update the public on this issue as we have more clarity about what happened and how it will be handled.  
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