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New state ratings show fewer schools among Georgia’s worst


New state ratings of schools released Tuesday show improvement at many schools the state had considered among Georgia’s worst, but they show, too, that some schools will now be added to that list.

Ending up on that list of Georgia’s consistently lowest performing schools — schools receiving an F or lower for three consecutive years — would make a school eligible for state takeover if voters approve Gov. Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District plan this fall. The plan would allow the state to take up to 20 schools from that list each year and close them, run them itself or convert them to charter schools.

Statewide, there are now 127 schools eligible for a potential state takeover, according to the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement. That’s down from 139 last year. But the same handful of districts still have the lion’s share of schools eligible for potential takeover.

The Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology had the top score of any school in Georgia. But statewide, the number of schools earning A’s and B’s has dropped as the state instituted new tests and tougher grading standards.

Nearly half the takeover-eligible schools are in metro Atlanta. DeKalb County has the most schools eligible for takeover, 28; Atlanta has 22, including some schools that have closed or will be merged or closed next year. Ten schools are in Fulton County. Three others are state-approved charter schools, including two in metro Atlanta and one online school.

Clayton County, which had three eligible schools last year, has no eligible schools this year, according to the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.

“The governor would like nothing more than to see no schools on this list,” said Deal spokeswoman Jen Talaber Ryan.

The Georgia Department of Education school ratings, which are based mostly on student performance on state standardized tests, are the cornerstone of the state’s school accountability system in the post-No Child Left Behind era. Multiple requests from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to speak with State Superintendent Richard Woods about the ratings went unanswered.

This year’s ratings can’t be compared to last year’s because the state changed the grading criteria, primarily to give more credit to student improvement. And some schools reported problems with online testing last year, including the test “freezing” or taking a long time to load questions, potentially leading to lower than expected scores.The Georgia Department of Education called the problems “sporadic and scattered.” Education policy experts, such as the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education’s Dana Rickman, noted the criteria may change again, thanks to new federal education legislation.

Gov. Deal’s state takeover plan isn’t a sure thing. Some parents, clergy and others have criticized it, saying it won’t actually improve education for Georgia students. But even if voters do approve the plan, the earliest the state would intervene in any eligible school would be the 2017-18 school year.

In DeKalb, 28 schools are eligible for potential takeover, state officials said. Three improved enough to avoid potential takeover, but six more were added to the list. DeKalb school officials said they believed fewer schools were actually state eligible.

“The way I received the information was encouraging,” DeKalb superintendent Steve Green said of his district’s overall scores. “I think the trend line is an upward trend overall. We did have some schools that had some challenges and those are going to get a triage approach and focus.”

The scores were reason to celebrate at DeKalb’s Columbia High School, one of the schools no longer targeted for potential state takeover. Columbia’s state rating rose from an F to a D.

“It’s euphoric to say the least,” Principal Stephanie Amey said Tuesday. “A lot of hard work was put in by teachers. A lot of work a regular person doesn’t see.”

In Atlanta, seven schools improved enough last year to make it out of the range of Gov Deal’s proposed state takeover district. But two were added to the list of those eligible. The two that were added actually had higher scores than in the previous year, but were still rated low enough to be at risk of takeover.

It wasn’t the threat of takeover that led to the improvements, Atlanta Public Schools superintendent Meria Carstarphen said.

“This is the lift and the push of APS doing a lot of tightening…and getting back on that child-centered agenda,” she said. “I’m not chasing OSD.”

» Explore The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's interactive guide to Georgia schools here

Staff writer Greg Bluestein and data specialist Jennifer Peebles contributed to this article.



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