The GHSGT are given to high school students for the first time in the spring of their junior year. All four portions of the test, plus the Georgia High School Writing Test, must be passed in order for a student to receive a full diploma from a Georgia public high school. Students can retake the GHSGT as many times as needed to pass the exams.
Statewide, 90 percent of 11th-grade first-time test-takers passed the English Language Arts portion of the tests, a 1 percentage point increase from 2008, the first year the test was aligned to Georgia Performance Standards. Since 2005, the state has been implementing the GPS, a more rigorous and focused curriculum in the core areas. As the curriculum is phased in, the state's tests are being aligned to match the GPS.
The results of GHSGT in mathematics showed a slight decline in student performance. Ninety-one percent of first-time test takers passed the exam, a three point decrease from 2009 (94 percent). The math exam is still aligned to the Quality Core Curriculum standards.
Ninety percent of the state's students passed the GPS-based science GHSGT, while for the first time this year, the GHSGT in social studies are completely GPS based. On the social studies exam, 78 percent passed the exam, an decrease state officials expected over last year's QCC-based exam (87 percent).
Cartersville City Schools fared well on the graduation tests, with 91 percent of its test-takers passing English Language Arts, 95 percent passing math, 91 percent passing science -- those three rates exceeded the state's rates.
"I attribute that to some strategies we put in, which included an additional math course looking at those areas where kids in the past were struggling," Superintendent Howard Hinesley said of the pass rates on those three exams. "We feel like that helped us."
Seventy-eight percent of Cartersville students passed social studies, on par with the state's rate on the exam but down from the school's 91-percent pass rate last year.
Cartersville system leaders, like state officials, said a pass-rate dip on new exams is not uncommon.
"Anytime you have new tests, you expect some kind of dip," Cartersville Assistant Superintendent Ken Clouse said. "Of course, we're never thrilled about it when we're going in the wrong direction, but it's also cautionary to compare one year with the next year, because you're talking about a different group of kids, and this time a different curriculum.
"In any of our testing, we look at trends. In order to get a look at trends, you've got to be looking at three to five years. One individual year, it's not where we want it to be, but it will just help us to refocus our efforts next year and know where we need to go," Clouse added.
Clouse said the drop in the social studies pass rate contributed to the high school's drop in the rate of students passing all exams on the first try. This year's rate was 75.1 percent, down 7.7 percent from the previous year.
First-time test-takers in Bartow County Schools had an 87-percent pass rate in English Language Arts, 90 percent in math, 88 percent in science and 78 percent in social studies. Passing all tests on the first try were 70.9 percent of the 846 students tested in the system's three high schools.
John Barge, director of secondary curriculum for Bartow County Schools, said the system's pass rates remained steady or increased with the exception of the two exams on which the state saw declines as well -- while its science pass rate went up 1 percentage point with ELA staying put, the math and the social studies tests saw pass rates slide 3 and 9 percent, respectively. The state results saw the same exact rate declines.
"We reflected the state pretty much in all the trends there," Barge said.
The system did see two of its test pass rates surpass the state's numbers. Adairsville High School had 92 percent tested pass the math portion, compared to the state's 91 percent; Cass and Woodland high schools reported rates of 89 and 90 percent, respectively.
Woodland High saw 83 percent of its test-takers pass the social studies portion -- 5 percentage points over the state rate. Adairsville and Cass notched rates of 76 and 72 percent, respectively.
On the ELA exam, Woodland had 88 percent passing with Adairsville and Cass close behind with 86 percent each. In science, Adairsville had the district's best pass rate at 89 percent; Woodland and Cass were not far with 88 and 87, respectively.
Within the district, Woodland had the highest rate of those tested passing all four sections at 76.5 percent, down 2.6 over last year. Adairsville followed with 70 percent, down 3.3 percent over the previous year, while 65.1 percent of Cass' test-takers got past all four tests on one go -- its rate dipped 12.4 percent from the year before. Barge said the new social studies exam played a hand in decreasing the overall pass rates.
Districts offering exam remediation
School officials hope their remediation offerings this summer will lead to students passing the GHSGT portions they previously failed, bringing them one step closer to graduation. Bartow County Schools' efforts this summer are even helping those from other school systems.
"We are a host site this year -- the Department of Education does a two-week program during the summer that they did for the first time last year called Summer ExPreSS, and it's for science and social studies," Barge said. "They were pretty successful in their remediation last year, so we volunteered to be a host site, so we have not only students from Bartow County but all over north Georgia participating in a Department of Education remediation opportunity for science and social studies at Adairsville High School."
Bartow's ExPreSS offering culminated Friday with students' re-taking of the exams they did not pass earlier.
"In addition to that, because the ExPreSS program only covers science and social studies, we are having another review in July for English and math that we are hosting at each one of our schools," Barge added, saying that participating students will go to their respective school for the weeklong remediation a week prior to the summer administration of the GHSGT.
"We're fully anticipating that many of these students will pass the test at the end of that remediation," he said.
Cartersville High last week was offering GHSGT remediation, with officials hoping to see more passed tests soon.
"What we've seen in the past, the trend has been those students who do avail themselves for the extra study in the summertime, generally they come back and do quite well when they retake the test," Clouse said. "Unfortunately, not all students take advantage of it, but we certainly try to encourage them, as it's free and available to them."