Butts County school officials are celebrating gains by students on last year’s Georgia Milestones tests in some areas while acknowledging there is work to do in others.

State education officials released results of the spring 2019 Georgia Milestones assessments late last month, noting statewide average scores increased or held steady in 25 of the 26 testing areas. The percentage of students testing at or above grade level in reading also increased or held steady in every grade tested.

Georgia Milestones tests are administered in grades three through 12 as end-of-grade tests to younger students and as end-of-course tests to high schoolers. Students began taking Georgia Milestones tests in the 2014-15 school year.

While the Butts County system lags behind the state averages in many areas, officials note progress in catching up over the past several years. For instance, while the rate at which last year’s third-graders passed the Georgia Milestones assessments in English/language arts and math was lower than the state average, they made gains in ELA over the previous year’s third-graders. The number testing at the “beginning” level, not considered passing, fell from 52% to 41% in ELA, while the number testing as “distinguished,” the highest level, rose from 3% to 7%.

Butts County third-graders struggled in math, with the number testing at the beginning level growing from 17% in 2018 to 23% in 2019, but the number testing at the distinguished level ticked up from 6% to 7%.

The gap between Butts County third-graders in math and the statewide average was 5 percent, among the smallest gaps, with 77% of Butts County’s third-graders testing at or above a passing level while the state average was 82%.

Areas where Butts County students roughly matched the state averages included fifth-grade math, fifth-grade social studies, sixth-grade math and high school economics.

The Butts County School System’s interim superintendent, Todd Simpson, said there is no doubt room for improvement against state averages on Georgia Milestones assessments, noting the gap has persisted for some time. But he points to a new strategic plan adopted by the Board of Education early this year that officials believe will chart a path toward closing that gap.

“There’s no doubt progress is occurring,” he said. “We’ve got to celebrate success and we’ve got to acknowledge those areas where we fall short.”

One troublesome area for school officials has been literacy among some of the system’s younger students. While testing done by the system shows strong performance in development among kindergartners, with no state assessments of first- and second-graders, system officials have not been able to identify weaknesses until third-graders are tested toward the end of the school year.

But system officials say a new assessment tool approved by the school board and piloted in some schools last year will reveal those weaknesses and allow educators to focus on them before students reach third grade. The MAP assessments will be rolled out in kindergarten through eighth grade this year, school officials said, and given to students at strategic times throughout the school year, prior to Milestones testing. The less-intense MAP assessments are expected to give educators a checkup on how students are doing as the year progresses, and will be particularly helpful to the early-grade students who have gone unmeasured.

“Flying blind is not going to serve our students,” said Fran Dundore, the system’s director of professional learning and assessment.

School officials also acknowledge that they need to focus intently on students in grade levels underperforming against state averages, particularly in literacy. Simpson said that because literacy is a skill developed around the clock, not just during school hours, it’s important for parents and community members to promote reading outside the classroom. For students already testing behind grade level, the challenge is acute.

“In order to close that gap, you’ve got to progress a student faster than they age,” Simpson said. “And how do you progress a student faster than they age if you don’t leverage that time away from school?”

Managing Editor

Michael Davis has been the editor of the Jackson Progress-Argus since 2010. He previously worked as an editor and reporter for the Henry Daily Herald and Clayton News-Daily.