The Criterion Referenced Competency Test results are in and Newton County third, fifth and eight graders, as a whole, showed improvement in several subjects but fell short in every category of the state averages.

In the two areas mandated by the state to pass to the next grade level - mathematics for fifth and eighth graders and only reading for third graders - 64 percent of the county's third grade students met or exceeded the math score versus the 71 percent state average.

Looking at the fifth grade reading results, 82 percent met or exceeded reading standards compared to 87 percent at the state level while 63 percent of the county's fifth graders met or exceeded the math standard versus 71 percent at the state level.

Eight grade students inched even closer, equaling the state's average in reading with 90 percent passing while 60 percent of rising ninth graders met or exceeded the math test compared to the state's 62 percent average.

"While test results indicate scores near the states average performance levels, we realize that all students must meet standards on all subject areas tested," said Shelia Thomas, Newton County Schools director of testing and Georgia Performance Standards (GPS), in a press release. "We will continue to focus on improving our instruction in the new curriculum areas as we strive to reach our ultimate goal - 100 percent of our students meeting or exceeding standards in all test categories."

The district as a whole showed mixed results when compared to neighboring Rockdale and Henry counties.

Rockdale and Henry third graders outperformed NCSS students logging 81 and 80 percent passing, respectively, in math.

The averages for the fifth graders in Rockdale and Henry came in at 92 and 90 percent meeting and exceeding for reading and 82 and 74 percent in math, respectively.

Looking at the eighth grade class reveals the rising ninth graders closed the gap once again. Rockdale students met or exceeded the reading test at a rate of 92 percent while Henry came in at 94 percent. Newton County eighth graders did, however, perform better than Rockdale's overall passing or exceeding rate of 56 percent in math, but Henry again outperformed the district at 65 percent.

Comparing the district performance to 2007 is complicated. This year marked the first time NCSS third through fifth grade students took tests aligned with the new GPS curriculum. On those lines, the results reflected the tougher test material and the county expects to use them as a baseline for future tests.

The eighth grade math and science tests were also aligned with the new curriculum and as expected, the results reflected the more rigorous subject matter.

"Our greatest achievement challenge is in the area of mathematics," NCSS Superintendent Steve Whatley said. "The new Georgia Performance Standards (GPS) require a higher level of mathematical skill performance than was required in the past or was taught in the formerly used mathematics program - Saxon Mathematics.

"We have adjusted the curriculum, even as late as this summer, as teachers worked to redefine the mathematics instructional units and the timelines for teaching the objectives."

Even though the district finished slightly behind the state averages, NCSS students showed improvement in several areas, especially with sixth-graders.

Middle school results for sixth grade students improved across the board in all areas except social studies, but those scores were thrown out at the state level as the Georgia Department of Education invalidated all sixth and seventh grade social studies results due to the Georgia Performance Standards alignment issues.

Seventh grade students posted substantial gains in math and science as 75 percent of the county's rising eight graders passed the math test, jumping six points over 2006 results. Also, seventh grade science scores across the district rose eight points from a year ago.

"The increase in the percent of students passing these tests indicates that our teachers are doing a good job in implementing the new curriculum in those areas," Thomas said. "We will strive for even greater increases next year."

The test results are preliminary and will most certainly change. The county still has an opportunity to improve its overall performance as students in the promotion grades throughout the district, who did not pass, have been attending summer school for additional instruction before retesting later this month.

NCSS officials say approximately 800 third and fifth grade students are set to retake the reading and/or math test while an estimated 600 middle school students are retaking tests in the same subjects. Retesting will take place June 23-26, and results are expected sometime in late July.

Board of education member and former Newton County teacher of the year C.C. Bates added the district would like to look at helping all students in the future including the ones who have already passed the tests.

"I'm certainly not satisfied with the scores," Bates said. "We need to look into what we can do to improve all scores and what we can do to not only meet, but exceed, the standards."

Whatley echoed Bates sentiment. He said the county will continue to work diligently to continue the forward progress recently seen in areas such as the improved Georgia High School Graduation Test results released last month.

"The board of education and the administration at the school and system levels are keenly aware that the academic performance of students is of primary importance in the planning and operation of this school system," Whatley said. "We continue to have a lot to do to decrease the number of students not meeting the standard and to increase the number exceeding the standard. The goal is for students to exceed the standards."