ATLANTA - Georgia students in the grades and subjects where a statewide curriculum overhaul has been in place the longest are showing significant progress, according to test results released Wednesday by the state Department of Education.
But middle schoolers - particularly sixth-graders - are continuing to struggle with the math and science portions of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, this year's batch of test scores shows.
In the classes where the new curriculum has been taught for two years, results improved on 16 of 19 CRCTs administered this spring.
The biggest increase came in seventh-grade science, where the pass rate went from 63 percent in 2006 to 70 percent this year. Other jumps of 5 points or better occurred in seventh-grade English and reading, fifth-grade reading and fourth-grade English.
"The CRCT results demonstrate that our teachers are getting more comfortable with our standards-based curriculum and that our students are benefiting from the rigor and focus of the ... standards," state Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox said in a prepared statement. "We are on the right path."
But middle school math and science continued to be sore spots, as they have in previous CRCT tests.
While the seventh-grade science results were a marked improvement over last year, the sixth-grade science pass rate declined slightly, from 61 percent in 2006 to 60 percent this year.
Sixth-graders did better in math, but the pass rate on that test still was only 65 percent, up from 62 percent last year.
Tim Callahan, spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, said sixth grade tends to be a tough year.
"There's a degree of difficulty for all students making the transition from elementary to middle school," he said. "It's kind of a no-man's land."
The CRCTs are given each spring in Georgia to students in grades one through eight.
The most important tests come in the third, fifth and eighth grades. Students have to pass them to be promoted.
Cox also pointed to this year's results as evidence that the state is beginning to close the achievement gap between white students and minorities.
Average scores for white and black students moved closer on 14 of the 19 CRCTs that tested the two-year-old curricula, while the gap between white and Hispanic students narrowed on 16 of those tests.
"These test scores are promising," Callahan said. "The quality of the curriculum across the grades is getting better."
But Callahan said the jury is still out on the nagging gap between Georgia students' scores on the CRCTs and how they perform on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, an annual report card that measures how students across the country are performing in various subject areas. Those results are due this summer.
"The gap has been rather large," Callahan said. "Most students are going to be competing nationally for college admission and, later, in the job market."
Only statewide CRCT results were released on Wednesday. System-by-system results will be released no later than June 20, with scores for individual schools due to come out no later than July 5.
AT A GLANCE
Pass rates for the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test improved this year on 16 of 19 tests administered by the state to students in grades and subjects where new curriculum standards have been in place for two years:
Grade and subject '07 '06
First-grade reading 90 88
First-grade English 82 79
Second-grade reading 91 89
Second-grade English 84 84
Third-grade reading 85 83
Third-grade English 86 82
Fourth-grade reading 85 81
Fourth-grade English 84 79
Fifth-grade reading 86 81
Fifth-grade English 88 85
Sixth-grade reading 89 86
Sixth-grade English 86 84
Sixth-grade math 65 62
Sixth-grade science 60 61
Seventh-grade reading 85 80
Seventh-grade English 89 83
Seventh-grade science 70 63
Eighth-grade reading 89 89
Eighth-grade English 88 87
Source: Georgia Department of Education