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High school writing scores jump
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Effingham County students scored well on their final time taking the Georgia High School Writing Test.

The GHSWT is given to the state’s high school juniors in the fall, and this year 96 percent of Effingham County’s students met or exceeded the standard for the test. That matched the state average and was a five-percentage-point increase over Effingham’s score last year.

Nearly 700 Effingham students took the 2014 test — the most ever in the county, according to Judith Shuman, the Effingham County School System’s student and professional learning coordinator. The 697 test takers were second only to Chatham County among the 18 school districts in the First District Regional Educational Service Agency.

“A typical trend for assessments is that, if we see an increase in the numbers of students tested, we often see a decrease in the overall performance,” Shuman said. “So it’s nice to note that, as we have a record number of students being assessed, we also improved our percentage of students meeting and exceeding expectations.”

For years, passing the Georgia High School Writing Test has been a requirement to graduate. However, that will no longer be the case after this year under the state’s new Georgia Milestones standards.

Both Effingham County high schools improved their results from last year. Effingham County High School’s number of students meeting or exceeding the test standard increased by seven points to 97 percent, while South Effingham’s rose from 93 percent to 95.

One reason for the overall increase in scores, according to Shuman, was a strong showing by students in the high schools’ special programs. All students are required to take the test at least once unless they have a significant enough disability to designate them for the Georgia Alternate Assessment program, she said.

The percentage of Effingham’s special-programs students passing the test rose from 54 percent last year to 73 percent this year. ECHS’ percentage jumped from 50 percent to 78 in one year, while SEHS’ increased from 61 to 65 percent.

“That’s an incredible gain for our schools and, most importantly, for some of our students with disabilities,” Shuman said. “This has been one of those barriers in students receiving a regular education diploma versus a special education diploma, so we now see more of those students able to meet that requirement.”

Shuman lauded the office of special programs and the two high schools’ faculties for their work to improve the students’ scores. The special-needs students benefit from a collaborative effort in the classroom, she said.

“Those students get that opportunity for a content-area teacher and a strategist from the special education department who work together to make them successful and able to meet these goals,” Shuman said. “I think that department and the folks who work with the children every day are to be commended for those gains.”

The Georgia High School Writing Test requires students to write a persuasive essay on an assigned topic in 90 minutes. Students who do not pass the test on their first attempt are given up to four additional opportunities to take it before the end of 12th grade.

That will change next year under the new Georgia Milestones assessment. Student writing performance will be evaluated as part of the end-of-grade tests for grades 3-8 and end-of-course tests for high school students.