Fulton County School students continue to perform as well or better than their statewide peers on the state’s annual assessment of student progress, but the number of students remaining below proficiency remains troubling.

Results from the spring 2019 Georgia Milestones Assessment showed improvement in most tested areas, but math and science continue to challenge students across all grade levels.

The Georgia Milestones Assessments were implemented in 2015 to replace the previous state assessment (CRCT) in elementary and middle school, and the Georgia High School Graduation Tests. A statewide assessment of all public schools is required under federal law.

Georgia tests students in grades three through 12 each spring to gauge proficiency in course material taught that year. Elementary and middle school students take End of Grade (EOG) tests for promotion to the next grade; high school students take End of Course (EOC) tests which account for 20 percent of the student’s grade.

 Proficiency is considered the level to be on track for college or career success, according to the Georgia Department of Education.

In Fulton County, district officials were especially pleased with the five-point increase in proficiency by third grade students in English/Language Arts – considered the barometer of future success. 

An extensive study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, established 70 years ago to improve education, found that 16 percent of students who are not proficient readers by the end of third grade will not graduate on time. This rate is four times higher than proficient readers. 

Matt Weyer with the National Conference of State Legislatures said states should focus on building a strong foundation for literacy in the early grades.

“Third grade [is] the final year children are learning to read, after which students are ‘reading to learn,’” he noted. “If they are not proficient readers when they begin fourth grade, as much as half of the curriculum they will be taught will be incomprehensible.”

Although 52 percent of third graders still falls below reading proficiency, Fulton officials note the number is decreasing each year.

 “The Georgia Milestones results demonstrate that there is great work being done in Fulton schools,” said Fulton Superintendent Mike Looney. “Teachers can get positive results when the focus is right. Our strategies to address these areas of concern are being developed with our teachers and are focused down to the classroom level.”

Fulton officials said the results from the 2019 Milestones show specific areas that require more attention. These include fourth grade math, fifth grade science and ninth grade biology — all of which showed slight decreases from the 2018 results but still remain above the state average.

Additionally, the majority of students in 8th grade math, science and social studies scored below proficiency levels; fewer than half of students tested proficient in high school algebra and geometry.

Armed with these results, Fulton County Schools is refining instruction at the start of the new school year, noted Chief Academic Officer Clifford Jones.

“We understand some school communities face greater challenges, and we have planned to meet students where they are,” said Jones. “Schools in need of intensive support developed 90-day plans, and these are now being adjusted based on this most recent data.”

He said additional personnel, additional academic resources and intensive teacher support programs are all in place for August implementation.  

This is the first year the Georgia Milestones Assessments were taken completely online, after a five-year transition away from pencil and paper.

Meghan Frick, spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Education, said districts had five years to make the transition. Last year nearly 90 percent of students took the test online. 

“Online testing improves test security and allows for faster score returns,” Frick said. “In 2019, schools received preliminary student scores an average of 5-10 days after a student tested.

She noted the platform also allows districts to offer accommodations such as read-aloud or video sign language to students who need them, and provide more flexibility to districts for scheduling of the assessments.

School results can be found on the Fulton Schools website at www.fultonschools.org.

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