Sumter test scores begin to soar

Published 10:06 pm Friday, November 2, 2018

By Beth Alston

AMERICUS — The CCRPI (College, Career Ready Performance Index) test scores for Sumter County Schools have lifted off, are well off the ground, and reaching new highs. The results of the annual test, which lasts a week, were released earlier by the Georgia Department of Education.
The test is administered to all students in grades three and above. The test is also known as Georgia Milestones.
Torrance Choates, Ed.D., Sumter County Schools superintendent, has just begun his third year at the helm of the local school system, and has already seen great strides in test scores and other areas since he first arrived.
Choates explained that the CCRPI is used to measure the entire school system’s academic performance. “The main criteria in the test is the achievement,” he said. “You’re looking at student growth — from where the student starts to where they are now.”
Choates said that the system’s CCRPI test scores were at a 59.6 percent for 2016-17, and are at 70.9 percent for 2017-18, the latest released scores. “We’ve been constantly putting structures in place, not just for the curriculum aspect, but for the entire school system to improve academic achievement,” he said. One of those changes is having awards ceremonies every nine weeks versus once annually. “We’re recognizing students who’re making high levels of academic achievement,” and they’re receiving rewards such as cash and prizes. “It’s our hope that parents get fully engaged” he added.
Another thing they’re doing, according to Choates, is “trying to excite the parents and the students in academic achievement, including attendance with incentives … so we’re hitting every corner of student improvement.”
Testing requires over 95 percent attendance on test days. He said the school truancy officer, Coach Jimmy Green, is doing a great job and has had to take several parents to court because they don’t require their children to go to school each day.
Since his tenure began here, Choates has implemented many changes, that are used to achieve desired results. He requires all teachers to make 30 parental contacts each month, meaning that each call must receive a response (phone, email, or text); not just leaving a message.
“We’ve also been working very hard on curriculum and instruction,” he said.
Choates has what he calls a “basic principle on teaching and instruction.”
“I feel that for anything to take place, discipline has to come first,” he said. “You’ve got to have strong discipline at these schools. In order for a teacher to even be able to lay the foundation for teaching, she’s got to have control of her classroom. I’m a huge proponent of strong discipline throughout all the schools.”
The superintendent said that two other policies — cell phone use and dress codes — which he and the board put in place, have led to less disciplinary problems.
“Discipline is stronger in the schools,” he said. “We have found a stronger need to go back to a foundational approach with good, old-fashioned teaching.”
“And of course, our board of education is big on academic achievement and they work hard,” he said. “I can’t thank them enough for all the support they’ve given me to be able to lay some of this groundwork.”
One of the other changes Choates has made is the timing of the testing. Before his arrival, he said, the weeklong test was administered after students returned from spring break. He changed this immediately to have the testing done prior to spring break so that retention is not lost, and scores have improved.
“Every school has made strong academic strides,” Choates said. “We’ve gone from an F school system to a C in no time.”
Americus Sumter High has risen from 70.4 to 77.8.
Americus-Sumter Ninth Grade Academy is from 54.8 to 68.5
Sumter County Middle School has improved from 64.4 to 68.4.
Staley/Sumter County Intermediate School has risen from 54.4 to 67.2.
Furlow Charter School has improved from 70.7 to 76.
“We’ve seen incredible gains in test scores,” Choates said, “and we’re running a strong budget.”
Sumter County Schools is now ranked third in the RESA region, tied with  Schley County, and behind only Muscogee and Chattahoochee counties.
“True academic learning takes place when you have a change in attitude and behavior,” Choates said, “and follow-up with individual students is essential.” He used several examples of “problem” students with whom he has worked and they have returned to the classroom with new attitudes so the learning can occur. He said he “loves” to see the changes in these students when extra care and attention is given, and the bar is raised on expectations.
“My goal is for us to have the best clientele, the best culture, and to lead in test scores” in the RESA region,” Choates said.