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State analysis draws questions

ALBANY -- A week after the Governor's Office of Student Achievement released its results of its first erasure analysis on the state Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, Dougherty County School System officials had yet to receive the actual classroom test sheets and other specific data.

The accuracy of Dougherty County School System's test scores on last spring's CRCT exam were questioned after GOSA Executive Director Kathleen Boyle Mathers presented her five-person team's analysis of all statewide CRCT answer documents for grades first through eighth. The five-month analysis investigated the number of wrong answers that were changed to correct answers on individual student answer sheets in reading, English/language arts and math.

Dougherty County had eight of its schools - West Town (77.2 percent), Jackson Heights (57.9 percent), Northside (52.2 percent), Martin Luther King Jr. (45.6 percent), Turner (39.4 percent), Alice Coachman (31.7 percent), Morningside (31.6 percent) and Sherwood Acres (25 percent) elementaries - on the state's 4 percent of schools on the "Severe Concern" list. The list featured schools with 25 percent or more of its classes flagged for wrong-to-right answers.

Lamar Reese (22.7 percent), Sylvester Road (22.2 percent), Radium Springs (21.4 percent), Magnolia (18.2 percent) and Lincoln (14.3 percent) elementaries, along with Albany Middle (13.1 percent) fell into the "Moderate Concern" level, which is the second worst level with 6 percent of the state designated at this status with 11 percent to 24 percent of classes flagged.

Approximately 80 percent of Georgia's schools fell into the "Clear of Concern" category, meaning less than 6 percent of the classes within a given school were flagged. Ten percent of the state's schools fell into the "Minimal Concern" category with 6 percent to 10 percent of classes flagged.

West Town's 77.2 percent was ranked sixth worst on the CRCT erasure analysis in the state.

"We are undertaking a thorough investigation internally and have requested outside assistance to help uncover where problems might be in our testing procedures and security. Until we have more data, we can't take action," DCSS Public Information Director R.D. Harter said. "We have heard from Mrs. Mathers and the Office of Student Achievement acknowledging our request for test documents and more data from McGraw Hill, the study's contractor. But, the contractor has to have state permission to release additional data to systems."

The Dougherty County School Board will have a special-called board meeting at 4:30 p.m. today at the school system's Administration Building in its first floor board room to discuss the "CRCT testing update and attorney selection for current lawsuit." The last special-called board meeting on Feb. 3 attracted more than 125 community members when the board discussed its superintendent search.

DCSS Test Coordinator Renee Bridges said waiting for the state's approval to release specific student data that the Governor's Office of Student Achievement collected for its erasure analysis has made addressing community concerns difficult at best.

"We're still trying to get to the bottom of everything; what could've happened, any possibility," said Bridges, who has held her title for six years. "If you're flagging a class, are all those students in the class? ... I don't know who is causing a problem? If I had a student's name, I might be able to give you some insight. I might be able to tell you if he pitched a fit and had all these scribble parts."

Although Dougherty County school officials have yet to receive specific state data about the erasure analysis, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution posted statewide findings for individual classrooms on its Web site. To provide some context in the state analysis, The Herald compared first-grade scores at Dougherty elementary schools West Town and Live Oak.

West Town had four first-grade classes and 89 total students take the CRCT test. All of the classrooms were flagged by the state and labeled as "Severe Concern." In the English/language arts portion, Bridges said students had 70 questions to answer of which 60 counted. West Town students changed 622 total answers from wrong-to-right answers out of 6,230 total questions.

The average number of answers changed from wrong-to-right in each class was 8.619, 5.810, 6.870 and 6.708. In the classes, the highest number of wrong-to-right changes an individual student made were 17, 11, 18 and 18. The state average for answers from wrong-to-right was 1.603 and the threshold for flagging a classroom as questionable was 2.878.

In the reading portion, there were 50 questions asked and only 40 counted, Bridges said. West Town students changed 441 total answers from wrong-to-right out of 4,450 total questions.

The average number of answers changed from wrong-to-right in each class was 6.762, 4.667, 4.261 and 4.292. In the classes, the highest number of wrong-to-right changes an individual student made were nine, 15, 11 and 13. The state average for answers from wrong-to-right was 1.081 and the state threshold for flagging a class as questionable was 2.056.

In the math portion, 60 questions were asked and 50 of those counted, Bridges said. West Town students changed 488 total answers from wrong-to-right answers out of 5,340 total questions. One of the four class' was not flagged by the state with only 58 wrong-to-right changes.

The average number of answers changed from wrong-to-right in each class was 7.429, 6.619, 5.870 and 2.417, which was the unflagged classroom. In the classes, the highest number of wrong-to-right changes an individual student made were 19, 17, 13 and seven. The state average of answers from wrong-to-right was 1.748 and the state flag threshold was 3.089.

Live Oak Elementary had 5.8 percent of its five first-grade classes flagged for wrong-to-right answers, which fell into the "Minimal Concern" category. Live Oak had 88 total students, one fewer than West Town.

In the English/language arts portion students had 70 questions to answer of which 60 counted. Live Oak students changed 144 total answers from wrong-to-right answers out of 6,160 total questions.

The average number of answers changed from wrong-to-right in each class was 2.647, 1.235, 2.000, 1.333 and 1.000. In the classes, the highest number of wrong-to-right changes an individual student made were nine, six, seven, six and three. The state average for answers from wrong-to-right was 1.603 and the threshold for flagging a classroom as questionable was 3.020.

In the reading portion, there were 50 questions asked and only 40 counted. Live Oak students changed 95 total answers from wrong-to-right out of 4,400 total questions.

The average number of answers changed from wrong-to-right in each class was 1.118, 0.412, 1.667, 1.167 and 1.000. In the classes, the highest number of wrong-to-right changes an individual student made were four, two, five, six and five. The state average for answers from wrong-to-right was 1.081 and the state threshold for flagging a class as questionable was 2.165.

In the math portion, 60 questions were asked and 50 of those counted. Live Oak students changed 150 total answers from wrong-to-right answers out of 5,280 total questions.

The average number of answers changed from wrong-to-right in each class was 1.941, 1.176, 2.278, 1.889 and 1.222. In the classes, the highest number of wrong-to-right changes an individual student made were five, four, six, four and five. The state average of answers from wrong-to-right was 1.748 and the state flag threshold was 3.239.

West Town has made Adequate Yearly Progress seven years in a row and its school status is Distinguished, which netted the school $9,810 in federal funds. In 2009, the school had 95.5 percent of its students meet or exceeded standard in reading, 91 percent in English/language arts and 89.9 percent in math. In 2008, it had 97.2 percent of its students meet or exceeded standard in reading, 91.7 percent in English/language arts and 95.8 percent in math.

According to its school system's Web site, West Town's student population of 495 students is 99 percent African-American. It has 94 percent of its students defined as economically disadvantaged.

Live Oak has made AYP in each of its first two years. In 2009, the school had 96.6 percent of its students meet or exceeded standard in reading, 94.3 percent in English/language arts and 93.2 percent in math. In 2008, it had 96.3 percent of its students meet or exceeded standard in reading, 95 percent in English/language arts and 96.3 percent in math.

According to its Web site, its student population of 535 students is 82 percent African-American and 14 percent is Caucasian, and 67 percent of its students are defined as economically disadvantaged.

The CRCT are curriculum-based tests given to first- to eighth-grade students in Georgia public schools. Students are tested in reading, English/language arts, mathematics. Students in third- to eighth-grade are also tested in science and social studies.

Third-grade students are required to pass the reading exam to advance to the next grade. Students in the fifth and eighth grades need to pass the reading and math tests to advance. Social studies results were not available in 2009 for sixth and seventh graders due to a new test being administered.

CRCT test scores are used to determine whether schools have made AYP as required by the federal mandate No Child Left Behind.

Herald librarian Mary Braswell contributed to this story.