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In schools, a tale of two Fultons

A map of Fulton County Schools shows a long, snaking district cut in half. Atlanta Public Schools operates schools in the middle of Fulton, creating a dividing line between north and south Fulton schools. If you’re a student, you want to be north of that line.

Students in north Fulton performed better last year on a variety of tests than south Fulton students. They scored 400 points higher on the SAT and seven points higher on the ACT college-entrance exams, on average. At least 30 percent more students were “proficient” or “distinguished” in every subject of the Milestone End of Grade Assessment in North Fulton. 

North Fulton students also graduated with more college credit through Advanced Placement courses. Students can earn college credit at most universities by scoring a 3 or higher on AP tests. North Fulton students were more likely to take these tests and more likely to test in more than one subject. Furthermore, they were about six times more likely to pass their AP tests than their southern counterparts.

Students north of the APS divide also graduated with more HOPE scholarships. More than 60 percent of north Fulton graduates were eligible for HOPE, 35 percent more than in South Fulton.

These differences are reflected in part by the two regions’ differing scores on the College and Career Ready Performance Index, a state measurement of academic performance. The 57 schools north of the divide had an average CCRPI score of 86 while the 48 schools south of the divide averaged 60, the cutoff for what the state considers failing. Almost all of Fulton’s schools with failing CCRPI scores are in the south.

The difference in student achievement between the regions mirrors the difference in poverty levels. The percentage of students directly certified as eligible for free and reduced lunch — meaning they already receive SNAP (formerly food stamps), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or are homeless, foster or migrant children — is one measure of poverty. More than half of south Fulton students are directly eligible, almost 40 percent more than in north Fulton.

Almost 74 percent of south Fulton students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches. Eligibility is tied to household income. Twenty-six south Fulton schools have more than 95 percent of students eligible, the same proportion as schools there that are failing on the state’s index. Only one north Fulton school is in the same predicament.

Student mobility is a common issue at schools with high poverty. Students change schools frequently if their parents have to move to find a job or are evicted from their home. Mobility hurts a student’s ability to keep up with peers who are settled and on pace with that particular school’s curriculum. In south Fulton, mobility is almost 18 percent higher than in the north and as high as 58 percent at one elementary school. 

Fulton officials are not blind to this disparity. The 2016-2017 school budget allocated almost $300 more per student from general operating funds to south Fulton. Officials also directed more money from ESPLOST, the sales tax for education capital projects, to the south than the north, a difference of about $20 per student. The high poverty rates in south Fulton also qualify the region for federal funds and grants. In total, south Fulton students are allocated almost $900 more than north Fulton students.

District officials note dollars are not allocated on a per student basis, and the higher poverty in south Fulton qualifies many schools in the region for federal funding that some north Fulton schools are not eligible to receive.

Staff quality in terms of years of experience and number of advanced degrees for both teachers and administrators are about the same between the regions. Teachers and administrators have about 1.5 years more experience in the north, but the south has a narrow lead in the number of administrators with doctorates at each school.

Fulton’s district also created the Fulton Achievement Zone, a cluster of 10 south Fulton schools singled out for focused improvement efforts. Since 2015, the district has improved literacy rates, teacher retention and graduation rates inside the zone.

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