During Gwinnett County Public Schools’ assessment update from the 2018-19 school year, associate superintendent Jonathan Patterson presented the school district’s most recent standardized test achievement compared to other state scores and last year’s results in Gwinnett.

The school system’s students scored more proficient or distinguished scores than the state average on most Milestones tests. GCPS saw a 2% decrease in first-time test takers that met or exceeded expectations on the Gateway Science test and a 2% increase in first-time test takers that met or exceeded expectations on the Gateway Social studies tests.

Milestone tests divide scores into four levels of performance, the top two being “Proficient Learners” and “Distinguished Learners.” Milestones testing comparisons between GCPS students and the rest of the state revealed proficient or distinguished scores has much as 15% higher than the state average in fifth grade social studies, 14% higher in eighth grade social studies and sixth grade math and 13% higher on fifth grade math and science tests.

School officials said 139,135 Gwinnett students took more than 300,000 state Milestone tests last April. On 53% of those tests, GCPS students scored proficient or higher compared to 43% statewide. Gwinnett had the second-highest percentage of students score proficient or higher than any metro-Atlanta district. Its 53.4% was a fraction of a percent lower than DeKalb County Schools (53.8%).

“We are pleased with the overall results of this year’s Georgia Milestones,” Patterson said in a statement. “It is confirmation that our focus on improving student achievement is working. We believe the results reflect the high value that our parents and community place on excellence in learning, and it is a credit to our educators who work tirelessly to prepare students for college and careers in today’s world.”

GCPS students achieved below the average state level on eighth grade math (23%) and science tests (15%). Patterson explained that the decrease in score reflects roughly 2,000 that took End of Grade tests, as opposed to the End of Course tests in those subjects.

“Any student we believe can be successful (on End of Course tests) we’re trying to push into that course,” Patterson said.

Patterson also remarked that the district expected better than 55% proficient and distinguished scores (6% above state average) on biology Milestones.

“We’re looking at the alignment of teaching practices to make sure we don’t need more support,” Patterson said.

Across the board, GCPS saw two-year improvement in math proficiency scores on Milestone tests.

“Each student is so unique, getting down to the individual is our challenge every day,” Patterson said. “You don’t have a chance to achieve proficient or distinguished (scores) unless you’re taught at a proficient or distinguished level.”

GCPS’s decrease in two-year Gateway Science test achievement stemmed from a 4% decrease in first-time test takers that met expectations on the test. In social studies, the first-time test takers increased scores that exceeded expectations by 2%.

The district saw 74% of students taking the Gateway Science Alternate test this summer meet or exceed scores (73% met). In the Gateway Social Studies Alternate, 85% of test takers met or exceeded standards.

Standardized tests, Paterson said in a statement, continue to be an integral part of how schools evaluate student progress and educator effectiveness.

We will review the 2019 results, looking to drive opportunities for improvement, paying particular attention to what we can do to raise achievement among our students — those who struggle as well as those who have shown advanced proficiency,” he said.

Taylor Denman is a reporter born and raised in Gwinnett County. He came back home to seize the rare opportunity of telling stories in the county he grew up in.