MOULTRIE -- The writing is on the wall, but this time instead of detention, students get a commendation.

A whopping seven-point leap in writing scores is an indication to Colquitt County Schools Superintendent Leonard McCoy that higher test scores in other areas are soon to follow.

On the writing portion of the Georgia High School Graduation Test (GHSGT), Colquitt County High School (CCHS) juniors taking the test for the first time scored the highest comparable scores in that school's history.

"I am appreciative of everyone's effort. Hard work pays dividends," McCoy said.

At 95 percent, CCHS's average scores exceeded state averages by two percentage points and the RESA (Regional Educational Service Area) group by five percentage points. Colquitt County is included in Southwest Georgia RESA also including school systems Baker, Calhoun, Decatur, Dougherty, Early, Grady, Lee, Miller, Mitchell, Seminole, Terrell, Thomas, Worth, Pelham City and Thomasville City.

CCHS Principal Bob Jones was elated.

"I believe these scores are a result of a disciplined effort by the English Department to ensure that our students and staff have the right tools to do the job," Jones said, extending thanks to staff members who attended workshops, incorporated writing in their classrooms and led workshops and training sessions for students and other staff members.

Secondary Curriculum Director Mary Ann Stone, who is retiring at the end of this calendar year after a long career with Colquitt County Schools said the high scores validate efforts to improve student achievement in writing and across the curriculum. "I always use our writing test results to predict performance on the GHSGT in March. If past performance holds true, we should see vast improvement in all areas," Stone said.

One of those improvement efforts is Georgia's Choice -- initially a hard sell to many teachers in the system -- which uses research-based methods of instruction with an emphasis in writing. McCoy called it a natural resistance to change, but now all schools except the high school are on board, he said.

This is the fourth year for the Georgia's Choice program, and this group of 11th grade record-breakers were among the first group to be instructed as eighth graders according to the Writer's Workshop format of Georgia's Choice.

The instructional delivery method is becoming an internalized part of teaching children, McCoy said.

"If you coach a sport, you want a basketball player to not have to stop and think. You put them through the drills until it becomes part of the subconscious mind. And that's really what's happening here," he said.

With this year's emphasis on improving math instruction, the superintendent is betting scores will improve in that area as well."We continue to see signs we're moving in the right direction," he said. "We see our CRCT (Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests) scores improving in 21 of 25 areas last year at elementary level, 12 out of 15 areas at middle school level. We see magnificent writing scores. We see attendance that is absolutely unbelievable."

You can't teach a child if he isn't there, he said. Across the board, attendance initiatives are reaping "phenomenal" results," he said.

Passing the Georgia High School Writing Test (GHSWT) is the first step in the assessment process toward graduation. To earn a high school diploma, students must pass all five portions of the graduation test in addition to earning the required Carnegie units. These same students will take tests in the areas of English, mathematics, science and social studies this spring.

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