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GCPS hopes to improve test scores

SUWANEE -- Gwinnett County Public Schools administrators told the school board last week they are not excited about the results of last year's High School Gateway in science, but they hope some online tools will help improve students' success.

Less than half of the test-takers passed the Gateway on their first attempt, said Steve Flynt, the school system's chief academic officer. Of the 9,813 10th graders who took the test, 48.7 percent passed.

"We have not been excited about the results," Flynt said, "... but we're hoping to see good information on the retest, which is being graded right now."

The Gateway is a test unique to Gwinnett County Public Schools. Unlike the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests -- a state-mandated series of multiple choice exams that test students' knowledge of the curriculum -- the Gateway is a writing assessment that tests students' critical thinking and analytical skills.

The school system administers High School Gateway tests in science and social studies. To graduate, students must pass both tests. Including the first administration of the text, students have eight opportunities to pass.

The High School Gateway was developed in response to requests from community and business leaders, along with college and university faculty, for increased proficiency in written communication, according to the school district's Web site.

"The Gateway calls for students to be able to demonstrate those skills that will be necessary for them to be successful," said Jeff Barker, executive director of student accountability, assessment and advisement.

The Gateway is a one-prompt test, but students can choose between two scenarios, Barker said. To pass, students must use their own knowledge about the topic and pull information from the provided documents.

On the science Gateway, students receive two scores -- one in science content, which is evaluated on the communication of scientific facts, concepts and principles, knowledge and use of science, and use of the scientific process, and one in language arts, which is evaluated on focus and development, organization, fluency of expression and conventions.

Flynt said the school system wants to bring students up to the desired performance level rather than lowering standards.

The school system has ways to support students who aren't successful the first time they take the test, such as intervention classes and online tools, Barker said.

The online resources for the science Gateway include an informational video, a tutorial and biology and chemistry reviews, tips for test success, and examples of papers that did not meet performance standards, met the standards and exceeded standards.

The resources can be found on the school system's Web site, www.gwinnett.k12.ga.us. Click on "Assessment/Testing" under Quick Links and then choose "Assessment News: HS Gateway Science Support."

"One day," Barker said, "our ultimate goal is that all kids will pass all assessments."