Parents know their child’s grades. Later this month, they’ll learn whether that child’s school is making the grade.
The state Department of Education will release grades for schools and districts under a new system designed to give parents a detailed look at performance in a wider range of areas beyond just standardized tests.
The new system, called the College and Career Ready Performance Index, was the core of the state’s successful request for a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind performance measures, which officials here and across the country said were simplistic and unrealistic.
Now, rather than simply telling parents that a school or district did or did not make “adequate yearly progress” or “needs improvement” — much-hated designations that were part of No Child Left Behind — the state will assign a 0-100 “grade” to each school and district. The grade will be based on such elements as graduation rate, performance on standardized tests, student attendance, academic growth and success in closing the performance gap between different groups of students. Schools and districts can earn extra points by offering special programs in areas such as science, technology, engineering and math or by improving the academic performance of poor students, students with limited English skills and students with disabilities.
State officials have not determined what, if any, types of assistance will be offered to schools and districts with low CCRPI grades. The state already has a system in place to assist schools that are designated as “priority,” “focus” or “alert” schools. Those designations are based on graduation rates, student performance and the school’s percentage of low-income students.
CCRPI is a different system that state education officials expect to offer an easy-to-understand grade to schools and districts. CCRPI scores are expected to be released later this month based on the 2011-12 school year. Another batch of scores, based on the 2012-13 school year, are scheduled to be released this fall.
State officials, who have been working on the new grading system for years, are bracing for strong reaction from schools and districts, some of which might have made AYP under No Child Left Behind but have poor grades under CCRPI.
“It may not be the best news they’ve gotten, but they intend to work and improve,” said Martha Reichrath, the deputy superintendent for curriculum, instruction, assessment and accountability at the state Department of Education.
Scores released this month are advisory only. Assistance won’t be directed to schools that perform poorly until after the scores for this current academic year are released.
Frank Petruzielo, the superintendent of the Cherokee County School District, said he’s not worried about how the district or its individual schools will fare. He praised the new rating system as a big improvement over the performance measures of No Child Left Behind.
“If a foreign power was trying to ruin public education in America, they couldn’t have done much better than No Child Left Behind,” he said. “No Child Left Behind and the AYP component had more congenital defects than Rosemary’s baby.”
The state Department of Education recently hosted a two-hour seminar for school officials and journalists to explain the complicated performance index. Officials distributed a 40-page explainer and acknowledged that the new system is incredibly detailed.
But that detail, they said, is needed to give parents and public officials a true sense of how schools and districts are performing. AYP, they said, did not give schools and districts enough credit for success in elevating the performance of students who were far below grade level.
Academic progress will count for 15 percent of a school’s or district’s grade under CCRPI. Achievement — how students perform on End-of-Course and Criterion-Referenced Competency tests — will make up 70 percent of the grade. Closing the gap in performance between struggling students and those at the state average will make up the final 15 percent of the grade. An additional 10 points are available for schools and districts that offer specialty programs or have success in improving the performance of poor students, those with disabilities or those with limited English skills.
Petruzielo said he thinks academic progress should account for 30 percent of a school’s or district’s score. That would make sure schools and districts with a high percentage of at-risk students are given credit for helping them improve their academic performance, even if that performance is not yet at grade level.
Joanne Leonard, the director of accountability at the state Department of Education, said progress is important. “We applaud schools in the progress that they’re making,” she said, “but the ultimate goal is that the student be proficient.”
Petruzielo said he also has concerns about linking such a big part of the grade to standardized tests such as the CRCT. Dozens of Atlanta Public Schools officials were indicted last week on charges relating to cheating on that test.
“We still have a ways to go before these tests are considered valid and reliable and will stand the test of time,” Petruzielo said.
Georgia has taken a number actions to improve test security, including the use of monitors at schools with a high number of erasures on previous tests and tamper-proof tape covering test booklets and answer sheets.
Gary Davison, the principal of Lambert High School in Forsyth County, said he likes that the new grading system will be about more than test scores.
“It’s much more complex,” he said. “It’s much more detailed. Everything now matters.”