Mike Klein Online

Georgia Low-Income Students Make Progress But Still Doing “Very Poorly”

Georgia takes a lot of hits over the quality of its public education.  A new study by the American Legislative Exchange Council describes some progress we are making, especially measured against other southern states.  But comparing new data to previous reports also suggests we may be treading water in a state that will spend $7.4 billion this year on K-12 public education.

ALEC’s “Report Card on American Education” analyzed fourth and eighth grade math and reading proficiency results for low-income students from 50 states and the District of Columbia.  Rankings were based on 2003 and 2009 test comparisons.  This year ALEC released a math and reading numerical education performance rank plus a new education reform letter grade.

The best overall effort was by Florida where Sunshine State kids finished third nationally for math and reading proficiency and the state received “B+” for education reform.  Just a few years ago Florida public school education was ranked near the bottom of the nation.  Florida improvement is largely attributed to several initiatives begun under former Governor Jeb Bush.

The Legislative Exchange Council ranked Georgia 27th nationally for a six-year trend in fourth and eighth grade math and reading proficiency and the state earned “C” for education reform.   Both rankings position Georgia in the middle of the national education pack.  “Georgia has a long way to go, but overall, it seems to be headed in the right direction,” said David Myslinski, director of the ALEC Education Task Force.

The study analyzes and reports two important bodies of data.  One is 2009 National Association of Educational Progress (NAEP) actual test scores.  The other is the trend line for those scores since 2003 when federal No Child Left Behind legislation mandated that all states administer the test. Just 30 states used the test prior to NCLB.

In NAEP tests last year Georgia low-income public school students finished 37th nationally in fourth grade reading, 43rd in fourth grade math, 41st in eighth grade reading and 44th in eighth grade math.  “Just looking at how Georgia students are doing now, very poorly,” said Myslinski, “but the good news is they are improving and improving faster than the majority of states.”

The six-year trend underscores that optimism.  Georgia finished 6th nationally in eighth grade math, 12th in eighth grade reading and 14th in fourth grade reading, but just 30th in fourth grade math.   Improvement trends are often considered more important than any single year result because they demonstrate whether progress is being sustained.

However, this is also where the nice story slows down.  When you dig into previous annual reports the comparison shows Georgia fourth and eighth grade scores did not improve over two and four years ago.  Fourth and eighth grade reading and math scores are all slightly down 2009 compared to 2007 and also down 2009 compared to 2005.

The ALEC education report card makes clear Georgia must challenge itself.  Georgia earned “F” for state academic standards when its 2009 school – year proficiency standards were compared to the 2007 NAEP comparable exams.  Oklahoma and Tennessee also scored “F.”

Writing in the main report, but not specifically about Georgia or the other two states, the Legislative Exchange Council said a proficiency standard lower grade “might indicate the state has been ‘gaming the system’ by lowering their state proficiency standards to reach AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) goals” mandated by NCLB.

The overall “C” letter grade that Georgia earned for education reform also considered policies on private school choice, charter school law, open enrollment, online virtual learning, home schooling regulation levels and teacher alternative certification.

Myslinski said, “It looks like he biggest downfall for the reform (grade) is the policy toward retaining effective teachers.”  Georgia was graded “D+” for identifying high quality teachers, “D” for retaining effective teachers and “C+” for removing ineffective teachers.

ALEC noted Georgia is among just six states that offer multiple publicly funded private school programs and among just seven that offer tax credit programs to fund scholarships.

This is the Council’s 16th American education report.  Previous studies included data for ACT and SAT tests taken by high school students, racial demographics, high school graduation rates and charter schools data but those categories were omitted in 2010. The entire concentration is on fourth and eighth grade low-income students.

Florida, Texas, and Virginia earned the highest math and reading proficiency rankings for fourth and eighth grade low-income students who attend public school in southern states.  Every other southern state finished behind Georgia with South Carolina last nationally.  The District of Columbia finished one spot ahead of Georgia.

Click here to read the complete report.

Mike Klein writes about education as Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

October 7, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

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