TCSS, state GMAS scores fall after pandemic year

Published 8:00 am Saturday, August 21, 2021

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The Troup County School System saw their Georgia Milestone Assessment System scores drop substantially this year, but the rest of the state is also dealing with a similar reality.

The school board heard a presentation on the new GMAS scores, which were released Monday, at Thursday night’s board meeting.

“Our scores have gone down across the board. We kind of figured they would,” said Superintendent Brian Shumate.

“We had some kids that were quarantined as many as four times last year for two weeks at a time. The virtual numbers weren’t up and down and the master schedule. Sometimes teachers changed mid-stream. It was tough, so it doesn’t surprise me. If there’s any consolation, the state also went down, as did most other districts.”

One major difference in the results was that TCSS only saw the number of students test by 9% between 2021 and 2019, while the state saw 36% fewer students tested overall. There was not a GMAS assessment in 2020.

Unlike some districts around the state, TCSS was open year-round last year, providing both in-person and virtual options for students. The virtual numbers were large at first — with as many as 40% of students in that option at one point — but they declined as the year went on as students chose to return to the classroom.

“They asked me in the springtime. They said, ‘you know virtual kids don’t have to test, they can opt out.’ I said, ‘I want to see where they are. If not, how are we going to know?’” Shumate said.

“We did our best, our principals did their best to go out and find these kids and get them in the schools to get them tested. So our participation rate is much higher than the state. If you leave a lot of virtual kids at home, and you don’t make them test, chances are your scores will be less negatively affected.”

TCSS administrators noted several times last year that a large percentage of virtual students were struggling in classes and worked to get those students back into the traditional classroom.

“One of the differences is … we had less than 10% of our students who did not test, while as in the state 36% of the students did not test. That’s compared to 2019,” said Deana Brown, director of elementary education.“So, there’s really a major difference in the knowledge we have about our students overall compared to the knowledge that we have in the state. So when we are making a comparison, it’s really not an apples-to-apples comparison at the data because drastically different numbers in the number of students who tested.”

Overall in the number of students at a proficient level or above, Troup County saw a decline of 5.7% in English language arts, while the state fell 7.15%. Math scores declined 7.7% in both TCSS and the state, per data discussed at Thursday night’s school board meeting.

At the third-grade level, TCSS had an 11 percent drop in students proficient and above (35% in 2019, 24% in 2021) in ELA arts. About a quarter (24%) of third graders at TCSS were graded as proficient and above in ELA. Math saw a similar drop, as the number of students were proficient and above fell from 45% to 30%.

But the state also saw major declines. In third grade, the state saw the percentage of students proficient and above fall from 42% to 36% and in math from 52% to 38%, according to TCSS data presented at Thursday’s meeting.

In fourth grade, the number of students at the proficient and above level declined as well. TCSS dropped 3% in ELA and 3% in math, while the state dropped 5% in ELA and 7% in math.  In fifth grade, the declines were 7% for TCSS in ELA and math. The state’s declines were both 6%.

In sixth grade, TCSS saw a 3% decline in ELA and an 8% decline in math, while the state saw a drop of 7% in ELA and 9% in math.

In seventh grade, TCSS fell 3% in ELA and 7% in math. The state saw no decline in ELA but a 6% decline in math.

In eighth grade, TCSS saw a drop of 5% in ELA and math, and the state dropped 6% in ELA and 3% in math.

At the high school level, there were also major declines.

TCSS saw an 8% drop in American literature, 9% fall in algebra I, an 22% drop in U.S. history and a 13% drop in biology as far as the number of students proficient and above. The state saw a 20% drop in American literature, a 10% drop in Algebra I, an 18% drop in U.S. history and a 7% drop in biology.

Board Member Brandon Brooks asked about the middle school level, where TCSS has seen lower scores in recent years.

“Where are finding the time to help these children, quite frankly that are most at risk, especially in middle school?” Brooks asked.

Jonathan Laney, director of secondary education, acknowledged middle school remains a problem area, saying TCSS has “a lot of work to do,” noting instructional coherence and some of the ways schools are helping students catch up.

Board Chair Cathy Hunt asked whether TCSS has looked into the scores for virtual students and compared it to scores from students who were in-person.

Laney said TCSS knows who was in-person the day of the test and who was still a virtual student when tested.

However, he said the data is still not easy to interpret because some in-person students might’ve been virtual most of the year, then decided to swap to in-person classes in January or in the spring.

“That doesn’t tell the whole story because on the day of testing the students who were still virtual were the students who were being successful in the virtual world,” Laney said. “We continuously prodded parents and students to come back to us … if [they] weren’t being successful. Some of them we didn’t get back until March. Some we got back in January, but we kept pushing.”

Laney said it would take more data digging to get the data Hunt was asking for specifically.

“We were all excited about the testing in 2020. We just felt the energy in the school system, we saw the great things that were happening, and we just knew that we were going to have some excellent results, and last year was a mess,” Hunt said.

Laney, who was principal at Callaway High, said he couldn’t wait to test in 2020, but unfortunately, the GMAS assessment was canceled that year due to the pandemic.

“As a principal in 2020, I was ready to test and was looking forward to those test scores,” Laney said. “Last year, when they told us we had to test, I was terrified. I was proud we did it, and proud we did it in the numbers we did.”