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Effingham students measuring up on state, national tests
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Effingham County Schools’ students are holding their own against students across the nation and the state, according to recent test results.

Third and eighth graders who took the Iowa Test of Basic Skills were either average or somewhat above average when compared nationally, and high school juniors taking a critical statewide test were close to the state average.

The Georgia High School Writing Test is the first high-stakes test for would-be graduates. The school system made writing a focus, Assistant Superintendent Greg Arnsdorff said, thanks to a federal program that allowed the system to put in place a writing specialist. That specialist works with all the schools.

“That is going to take a while to take effect,” he said, “but that is a tangible improvement project we have under way.”

Of the 713 students who took the GHSWT this fall, 89 percent passed, hitting the meets or exceeds mark. Across the state, the pass rate was 91 percent. The passing rate was 87 percent at Effingham County High School and 91 percent at South Effingham High School.

“We were neck-and-neck with the state passing rate,” Arnsdorff said.

Of first-time takers in the regular program in the county’s two high schools, 92 percent (655) passed.

“Where the difference occurs and where are challenges as a district, not only in the writing test but in every assessment area, is with exceptional students,” Arnsdorff said.

Across the system, first-time takers in the special programs passed at a 53 percent rate, with 65 percent of the special education students at SEHS passing and 47 percent of the special education students at ECHS passing. Arnsdorff said ECHS is testing a type of student that isn’t in the population at SEHS, “the more extreme cases of disability, severe emotionally behaviorally disturbed children who may have difficulty sitting and attending to a task for a long period, and the mildly intellectually disabled.”

The challenge for the school system, Arnsdorff continued, is to close that gap.

“They’re being asked to take that test and perform and attempt to graduate with a regular diploma,” he said.

The Iowa Test of Basic Skills compares students against a national standard. Effingham students scores are measured against other students in the same grade level and the same age who take the test at the same time of year.

“This is not a test that anyone preps for,” Arnsdorff said. “We announce we’re going to give it during a particular week of the year, and the students come in and take it. It is a very true performance of how we stand.”

Third and eighth graders took the ITBS this year; previously, it was also given to fifth graders, but the state dropped funding for testing of one grade level.

“So we had to make a choice,” Arnsdorff said.

School system officials opted to continue to give the test to third graders, since it is an indicator of gifted and talented children. They also decided to continue to give the ITBS to eighth graders because they saw it as a measure of students’ ability as they enter high school.

Under the ITBS scores, school system officials look at two main areas, a CORE total for the reading, language and math scores, and a composite of all the test scores, including the results in social studies, science and sources of information. Sources of information shows how students access such things as the library or the Internet.

The key indicator, Arnsdorff said, is the national stanine score.

“It gives us a ballpark of where we are,” he said.

Across the board, Effingham third graders had a stanine of somewhat above average compared to the national results. Eighth graders were in the average range compared with the national results.

“Generally, our schools all performed well,” Arnsdorff said, adding the core total ranged from the average to predominantly somewhat above average.

There were some dips, he noted, at Guyton, South Effingham and Springfield, but the scores still were at least average if not somewhat above average.

Schools also pay attention to the reading comprehension scores, Arnsdorff said, and the ITBS gives the schools a benchmark.

On the composite totals for third graders, all schools were in the somewhat above average range. There were improvements, too, as Springfield Elementary third graders went from average to somewhat above average in science.

“The schools will use these test results to help inform the improvement process,” Arnsdorff said.

For eighth graders, reading comprehension and reading total slipped to slightly below average at Effingham County Middle but its total composite remained at average. South Effingham Middle eighth graders dropped from somewhat above average to average in science but upped their marks to somewhat above average in sources of information and math.

Ebenezer Middle eighth graders were at somewhat above average for their composite and improved to somewhat above average in sources of information.

“They have a very strong showing in science and in sources of information,” Arnsdorff said.

The ITBS also is not correlated with the state curriculum. It is based on what third graders across the nation should know, according to the test developers, Arnsdorff explained.

“The ITBS provides us a temperature check on how we’re doing compared to national performance,” Arnsdorff said.

The high school writing test doesn’t have an impact on a student’s placement but may show where that student needs help.

For high school students, 15 percent of their graders are determined by their score on the end of course tests. 

“That’s by state law,” Arnsdorff said.

End of course tests were first given in Effingham schools about six years ago. Those tests also ensure that the same material in a subject is covered across the district.

“It provides some uniformity in delivery of instruction,” Arnsdorff said. “Testing and assessment information is just one indicator of success, whether it’s a teacher’s performance or a student’s performance. It’s up to the building leadership as to what that data means.”