Scores give some encouragement, but more work needed

It's easy to hear the grinding of teeth in advance of the release of test-score results and the groaning after the scores are announced.

Since the federal 2002 No Child Left Behind law was implemented, the complaints about the required testing have been a constant drum beat.

Last week, results of the 2005 National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP, were announced, and there was nothing to really brag about - although there was a bit of encouragement to be found in math scores.

Nationally, the results showed that 36 percent of fourth-graders have a solid grasp of math, as do 30 percent of eighth-graders. That is three times as many fourth-graders as in 1990 who understood math, and twice as many eighth-graders. That is good news because math has been a chronic weakness in students.

Georgia students also produced higher math scores than two years ago.

In reading, however, scores nationally barely rose - from the 29 percent registered in both grades in 1992, when the reading test was administered for the first time, to 31 percent this year.

Georgia's fourth-graders remained unchanged and below the national average in reading, and eighth-graders dropped slightly in reading scores.

Unfortunately, as much or more conversation and energy are wasted on criticizing the testing process and justifying the scores as are invested in genuinely understanding why the results aren't higher.

Georgia has made changes in the last couple of years and is in the process of implementing new curriculum, but changes aren't reflected immediately. Children who have failed to get needed attention in a critical point in their academic development require intensive work to make up for the deficiencies.

Georgia students would be best served if the state school superintendent gathered input across the state at the grass-roots level. Hearing from 500 elementary and middle-school teachers on what they think the problems are would be a good step toward assessing the situation.

Test scores are real indicators of what's going on in the classroom, even though it may be classrooms of years past. Test scores are not to be shrugged off or simply celebrated. They are numbers which cry out for supporting data that classroom teachers can help provide. Experts then can look to see what these front-line warriors are saying.

Georgians can look forward to the day when state averages will rise each year. In the meantime, the testing should be embraced for what it is - a spotlight on deficiencies in our educational system. Neither the public nor educators can give up on this crucial component of young people's development. Education is their key to the future.

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