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Op-Ed: Georgia's schools are not 'last in the nation' based on NAEP report

Op-Ed by Superintendent Richard Woods

Contrary to news reports you may have seen last week, Georgia is not “at the bottom of the nation” in math and reading.

A study released recently by the National Center for Education Statistics – “Mapping State Proficiency Standards onto NAEP Scales” – reminded us that under the old Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT), the bar set for Georgia’s students was far too low.

Unfortunately, however, as the results of the study were reported, that message got muddled. Multiple media reports explained, incorrectly, that the study showed Georgia at the “bottom of the nation” in reading and math performance. That’s a factually and contextually inaccurate interpretation of this study.

The NCES study uses a complex formula to estimate where the CRCT’s expectations for student achievement in grades 4 and 8 reading and math would have fallen on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The study did not use actual 2013 NAEP scores – which do exist, and which showed Georgia students making gains in multiple areas, including scoring one point above the nation in fourth-grade reading. These actual scores were not part of the NCES study.

What the study does show is that, under the CRCT, Georgia set the bar for its students far too low. That’s a serious problem, but it’s something we already knew. We’ve already taken the necessary steps to rectify the issue. The new Georgia Milestones Assessment System, which replaced the CRCT starting with the 2014-15 school year, sets a significantly higher bar for student proficiency. I’ll be entirely candid: that means scores, initially, will be lower.  It does not mean that Georgia students know less. But we’re not here to make sure students score well on a test. We’re here to make sure they’re learning, and that means setting high standards and evening the playing field with the rest of the nation.

I value the information provided by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and the efforts of the news media to inform the public about Georgia education, flaws and all. This is not a defense of the low bar Georgia set through previous assessments.

Georgians should know, however, that while this study provided valuable information, it did not show that our students are “last” in the nation. That’s simply not a fact.

Richard Woods, a 22-year public school educator and former small business owner, is Georgia’s School Superintendent.​