School district working to improve test scores

The COVID-19 pandemic is taking an expected toll on the academic performance of students.

Disruptions that have varied from full school closures back in 2020 to temporary pivots to virtual learning, all paired with the stress and hassles of living in a pandemic, are making themselves known in test scores.

Educators have long anticipated seeing these challenges influence testing performance and in Glynn County, school staff are seeing the Georgia Milestones average scores fall below those seen in 2019.

Statewide scores from last school year have been recently released, allowing school district leaders to gauge how the scores of Glynn County students compare with those in the region and across Georgia.

Administrators presented the school board with the 2022 Georgia Milestones scores in Glynn County and comparisons with student scores in other parts of the state along with improvement plans for the local district at a work session last week.

Trends seen in the local district are also seen at the state and regional levels, said Valerie Whitehead, chief of school improvement for Glynn County Schools.

“2019 was the last year that we had what they considered the full Milestones assessment that included constructive response items in math and in multiple sections of ELA and longer test sections,” she said. “In 2021, we no longer had constructive response in math, and the constructive response items in 2021 were reduced.”

Third grade ELA is one of the bigger gaps seen at the local level. In 2019, Glynn County’s average third grade ELA score was 71, and in 2022 it was 60. This will be an area of focus in the district’s elementary schools, said Tere Miller, assistant superintendent for pre-K through fifth grade.

“Phonics and vocabulary instruction have been missing pieces from our programs over the past few years,” she said.

A new literacy program being implemented this year, which includes phonics, grammar and vocabulary, will strengthen that instruction, Miller said.

The elementary schools will also focus on emotional support for students, she said.

“Some of our more at-risk schools, they have a teacher in their building that can serve as a model teacher that goes around since we did...away with our instructional coaches this year,” Miller said. “This teacher is one that can go and model lessons and help teachers and assist with any struggling teachers, especially in our schools that have a lot of new beginning teachers or teachers new to our district.”

Other large gaps are being seen in test scores for sixth grade math, where the local average score in 2019 was 80 and in 2022 was 70. Algebra I scores averaged at 89 in 2019 and 79 in 2022.

Fifth grade and eighth grade science scores are also significantly below their 2019 levels.

As part of the district-wide improvement plan, the central office purchased science lab materials for students to access this year.

“The cotton balls, the iodine, any kind of things that teachers were having to go out and purchase with their own funding in the past, we’ve purchased that through our budgets for teachers to take that financial burden off of them and to make the materials easily accessible,” Miller said.

For grades sixth through eighth, improvement plans include a new “Rise Up” pilot for reading remediation and iReady for math remediation. A new standards-aligned algebra textbook will also be used starting in January.

Scott Spence, superintendent, said he feels test scores in Glynn County should be much higher than what’s being seen at the state and regional level.

Whitehead agreed that local district leaders would like to see significant improvement.

“We feel like we should be in a different place than we are,” Whitehead said.

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