With over 100,000 students, DeKalb County School District is the third largest district in the State of Georgia. Within in the last few years, DeKalb County Schools have encountered some obstacles such as a recent probation which was lifted in 2014 and a cheating scandal that indicted three school administrators.
The county is now faced with a new statewide test called Georgia Milestones. The 2014-2015 school year was the first year the test was administered and results were not promising. In regards to the English and Language Arts results, the graph below shows the four achievement levels that could be obtained by each student. As seen in the graph, more than half of students in each grade level were not completely proficient in the subject.
These results are an opposite reflection of GA Milestones’ predecessor the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT) as can be seen in the graph below.
A change in results was expected because the two tests are completely different in format. For example, the CRCT was completely multiple choice and administered via paper and pencil while GA Milestones incorporates open-ended questions (creating an answer instead of just seeing one), a writing component, and is administered on paper and online. These differences make it so that the two test shouldn’t be compared, but the drastic difference in results do not inspire good feelings about the student’s knowledge. It actually brings up speculation of the effectiveness of the curriculum and teaching standards.Wanda Riley, English and Language Arts Department Chair at Lithonia Middle School, states, “the curriculum itself does not prepare students for standardized tests within itself. Teachers still must do a lot of scaffolding, re-teaching basic skills, and modeling how to get started on certain assignments to get students prepared.” In regards to the
Wanda Riley, English and Language Arts Department Chair at Lithonia Middle School, states, “the curriculum itself does not prepare students for standardized tests within itself. Teachers still must do a lot of scaffolding, re-teaching basic skills, and modeling how to get started on certain assignments to get students prepared.” In regards to the English and Langauge Arts (ELA) Curriculum, she states, “In my opinion, DeKalb’s ELA Curriculum is effective for students who function at or above grade level. Since the transition to Common Core a few years ago, teachers and students are expected to teach and learn at a “rigorous” pace. We have a significant number or students who are non-readers or “at-risk” for failure so they struggle to complete lessons on a daily basis.”
Looking at the 7th-grade results, in the graphs above, the CRCT results, show only 14% of 7th graders were below grade level, but according to GA Milestones a staggering 41.2 % of 7th graders are below grade level. Why is there such a significant difference when the curriculum is the same?
Latonya Plas, Academic Coach at Chapel Hill Middle School, stresses that there is nothing wrong with the curriculum, but the concern is if “it is being driven the right way and that’s all in terms of instruction.” She makes note that instructors should be using data to understand why students are failing and/or participating in professional development to better their class. In regards to last years GA Milestones test, she states that “last year was like practice for Milestones. This year is where it really counts…when you bring about a new test, you have to, at least, give it two years.” As we near the end of the 2015-2016 school year hopefully the results will be better than those of last year’s and will show that the majority of DeKalb County’s students can perform at or above grade level.