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TCSS improves in reading in GMAS scores, decline elsewhere

The Troup County School System (TCSS) has seen improvement in early reading levels, but still lags behind the rest of the state in many areas, according to the recently released Georgia Milestones scores.

GMAS, or Georgia Milestones Assessment System, is a comprehensive system that measures the knowledge level of students in third grade through twelfth grade. GMAS tests students in English language arts, mathematics, science and social studies.

Through the GMAS assessment, students are categorized in each subject as beginning learners, developing learners, proficient learners and distinguished learners. Beginning learners need “substantial academic support” to be prepared for the next grade level and do not demonstrate proficiency in the knowledge and skills necessary in that course. Developing learners require “additional academic support” and demonstrate partial proficiency in the course. Proficient learners are prepared for the next grade level and distinguished learners are well-prepared for the next grade level.

Overall, Troup County saw some improvements when compared to last year. One of the largest improvements came in the overall reading level of third and fifth grade students. Nearly 65 percent of third graders were at or above grade level, an increase of nearly five percentage points from 2018. In fifth grade, the increase was even more profound as 70 percent of readers are at grade level or above, a 7 percent increase from 2018.

English language arts also improved in third and fifth grade, as less students are in the beginning level and are instead at developing level or above (63 percent in third grade, 74 percent in fifth grade.)

Dr. Penny Johnson, assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and professional learning, said those improvements should be attributed to a new monitoring dashboard each school used that focused on English/language arts, discipline and attendance data.

“Some of the biggest gains on the campuses I would attribute to that constant and continuous monitoring,” Johnson said.

However, the increases still left TCSS below the state average in both third and fifth grade reading and English measurements, a common theme in the GMAS scores overall. While third and fifth grade saw significant improvements, in other grade levels reading scores stayed the same or slightly improved or declined.

The scores were also vastly different from school to school. As an example, nearly 90 percent of third grade students at Rosemont Elementary and Hillcrest Elementary were reading at or above grade level, according to the GMAS scores. Meanwhile, Clearview (42.1 percent) and Berta Weathersbee (37.5 percent) had less than half of third grade students reading on grade level.

Superintendent Dr. Brian Shumate, who just completed his first month on the job, said there were improvements, but he noted that there is still work to be done.

He said the first key is instructional coherence, meaning the information being taught at each school should be similar in each grade level. Shumate said another key is using data, such as the GMAS scores, to make informed, quick decisions.

“We have got to know if kids aren’t doing well. We need to know within a week and do very prescriptive interventions to make sure they don’t get too far behind,” Shumate said. “There’s a cumulative effect if you wait too long. It’s no different than your health. If you let something go forever, it turns into something much bigger than it had to be.”

Many scores also dropped when compared to last year, falling further below the state average.

Eighth grade science is an area where the school system has seen a considerable slide. In 2016, 32.2 percent of eighth grade science students were in the beginning level category in the GMAC scores. This year 55.6 percent of eighth grade science students were beginning learners.

Johnson said the school system is already looking at a scheduling change that contributed to the lower science scores.

Johnson said that two years ago TCSS implemented a new schedule, which required students to take only two nine-week periods of science, with an additional period available for students who needed remediation.

“We’ve reconsidered that two nine-week periods, and all campuses are now teaching it in a three nine-week periods, with a fourth nine-week for those who need remediation. That change was made for this year,” Johnson said. “The data did indicate that we needed to make some sort of change.”

The GMAS information released does not reflect retakes, which Shumate believes will only help Troup County’s scores moving forward. TCSS 2019 summer camp, which included students in third through fifth grade — also showed an rise on the English language arts retest in third and fifth grade and in mathematics in fifth grade.

Shumate said he likes to use the data to compare how TCSS fared against the state, but he also breaks it down into smaller sub-groups. He also compares the scores to schools in Troup’s region and to other districts that are comparable size.

The school system is also at the “tip of the iceberg” in its rollout of professional learning communities, which encourages teachers to work together to determine what’s working in their classrooms and what isn’t.

“What I would like parents to know is we will improve and we are going to be on a pathway of continuous improvement,” Shumate said.

“We want our schools to be places where there are academic rigor, they are safe, they have great school cultures that are kid-centered, there is caring adults there that care about their kids. We want students to be prepared when they leave us for college, career and life.”

The full GMAS scores for TCSS, including individual school scores by grade level, are available at Gadoe.org/Curriculum-Instruction-and-Assessment/Assessment/Pages/Georgia-Milestones-2018-2019-Statewide-Scores.aspx.