Georgia Milestone results, released last week, show that Forsyth County’s students have experienced learning loss alongside other Georgia school districts during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Educators across the state have warned about learning loss over the past year due to the pandemic, with many having to close schools and switch to virtual learning while COVID-19 case counts continued to rise.
There was also a huge drop in testing participation in Forsyth County and throughout the state compared to 2018-19 testing when it was last registered.
The Milestones tests were not given to students in spring 2020, and the state relaxed requirements in spring 2021, lowering the weight of test scores and not holding back students or evaluating teachers on final scores. Many families also opted out of testing, preferring to keep students safe at home.
With these factors in mind, state education officials said this year’s Milestones should not be compared to scores from past years without the context of the pandemic.
“Georgia Milestones was designed to measure instruction during a typical school year, and 2020-2021 was anything but," said State School Superintendent Richard Woods. “Given the impacts of the pandemic on all students, we expected some decreases this year.”
Forsyth County’s schools experienced a slight decrease in scores across the board from 2019. In subjects such as English/language arts, math, science, social studies and reading, schools in the county saw between a 4-26% drop.
Surrounding counties where COVID-19 cases surged and students spent more time at home this past year saw a more significant drop in scores compared to Forsyth County where cases remained more steady and the school system offered a choice of either virtual or in-person schooling to families.
Overall, more than 30% of students in Forsyth County Schools started off in virtual schooling last year.
Schools in the county saw the largest drop in scores in math, with some grade levels decreasing by more than 20 percentage points from 2019. These schools also saw a decrease in science scores, which are tested at the eighth grade and high school level.
Despite these drops in scores across all subjects, including reading level, Forsyth County maintained some of the top scores in the state. Forsyth County’s Milestones far surpassed state averages in all levels.
Many individual schools in the county also outperformed state scores and other schools in the metro Atlanta area. This includes Mountain Education Charter High School, a night school which offers students another option outside of traditional schooling.
While other schools in the county lowered the weight of Milestones tests to 1% or below of the students’ overall grade, Mountain Education leaders decided to keep results at the traditional 20% weight.
With high expectations for success, Mountain Education’s students pulled through. For the first time, the school outperformed the state on all Milestones tests, including biology, algebra I, American literature and U.S. history.
Many of the students entering Mountain Education for the first time have not seen success at previous schools or are considered at risk of not graduating. For school leaders, the jump in scores is a significant sign of success for their students, especially during a pandemic when they have had to work much harder to learn and stay connected.
“Our academic accountability for over a decade has largely been focused on growth,” Assistant Superintendent Dr. Joe Cash said. “Every student can demonstrate growth and redefine success based on their own ability.”
Cash said he was especially proud of student scores in U.S. history this year as that is one area where scores have struggled to keep up with surrounding systems in the past.
For Cash and other school leaders, they are also simply happy to see students succeed. From counselors and teachers to school leaders and other staff, those at Mountain Education work to make sure students have another chance in their education.
“For kids to come to MECHS, we have a chance to change the expected trajectory of their high school experience,” Cash said. “What’s more exciting is when that kid who graduates shares with you, ‘I never thought that was going to be possible.’”
By the numbers
The following data reflects the percentage of students in Forsyth County who scored at or above reading level for their grade for the reading category and the percentage of students who scored as a proficient learner or better in every other subject. Proficient learners, one of four learner categories, are students who “are prepared for the next grade level or course and are on track for college and career readiness,” according to the Georgia Department of Education.
State averages are in parenthesis next to county numbers for comparison.
Third grade: 81.9% (Ga. 61.6%)
Fifth grade: 86.7% (58.7%)
Eighth grade: 81.7% (67.8%)
Third grade: 59.2% (36.1%)
Fifth grade: 65.0% (39.4%)
Eighth grade: 60.8% (41.4%)
Third grade: 66.2% (38.4%)
Fifth grade: 67.9% (34.7%)
Eighth grade: 50.2% (31.8%)
High school: 44.1% (29.8%)
High school: 62.0% (30.2%)
High school: 68.4% (40.7%)
Eighth grade: 54.7% (52.8%)
High school: 51.1% (29.6%)