Georgia’s new system for grading schools is reaching the same general conclusions as the often-derided pass/fail federal system it’s replacing.
The vast majority of schools that met the federal benchmark of success scored well by the state’s new measure. And those that failed largely continued to perform poorly, an analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows.
Last week, the state rolled out the complex 110-point grading system that experts say should help educators spotlight where students are running into trouble, even why 30 percent aren’t graduating on time or at all. Now the challenge teachers, parents and politicians face is how to use these new detailed results to improve Georgia’s academic outlook.
State Schools Superintendent John Barge said he expects Georgia’s new school grading system, known as the College and Career Ready Performance Index, to be far more illuminating than adequate yearly progress (AYP), the federal measure that critics said fostered an unhealthy obsession with state tests and unfairly stigmatized schools.
“AYP was only about results,” Barge said. “We see the index as that and more. It will help us diagnose the problems, and that’s the first step to fixing them.”
The College and Career index grades released last week are based on the 2011-2012 school year.
Georgia developed its index after the state was granted a waiver from some requirements of the Bush-era law, No Child Left Behind, including the mandate that schools be rated annually on whether they made AYP.
Supporters say the index takes a much-broader view of education’s challenges and puts a much-needed emphasis on college and career readiness. It also radically downplays the importance of the state’s two major tests — the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT) for elementary and middle schools and the end-of-course tests for high schools.
The test results were the major determinant in AYP, but they count for only 28 of the College and Career index’s maximum 110 points, including 10 bonus points.
Still, little has changed for schools under either measure.
Specifically, the AJC analysis found that:
— about three-quarters of schools that made adequate yearly progress in 2010-2011 scored above a 77 on the College and Career index for 2011-2012, and three-quarters of schools that failed to make AYP in 2010-2011 scored below a 77 on the index;
— 60 percent of schools that made AYP scored more than 82 points on the index;
— the majority of schools that didn’t make AYP landed on the index with scores between 60 and 80;
— among all categories of schools, high schools were the lowest performers, with 41 percent failing to make AYP and receiving an average statewide score on the index of 72.6, a C- by most standards.
Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology (99.8), DeKalb County’s Wadsworth Magnet School for High Achievers (101.4) and Marietta Center for Advanced Academics (102.7) were metro Atlanta’s high school, middle school and elementary standouts last year, and all made AYP the prior year.
Michael Rowell, father of Abram Rowell, a senior at GSMST, said the school’s staff went above and beyond for his son, using video technology to link him to class when illness kept him away.
“Some of my colleagues are looking to move to Gwinnett, just to get into the lottery (for admission to the school),” Rowell said.
A complicated index
National and state education experts generally applaud the broad approach the state has taken with the index, even if they question some of the details and whether it will be difficult for parents and the community to understand.
Melissa Lazarín, director of education policy for the Center for American Progress, said the index is “ambitious in some important ways,” including looking at students’ knowledge in an array of subjects, including biology, physical science and economics, not just reading and math as No Child did.
“Some other states have moved in this direction, but I wouldn’t say it’s the norm,” Lazarin said.
Advocates of education reform at the state level are skeptical of some of the scores schools received on the index, specifically an average 83.4 for elementary schools and an 81.4 for middle schools.
“Do you really believe our elementary and middle schools are doing A and B work?” asked state Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, former chair of the Senate Education Committee.
Lazarin questioned why the index does not factor in the individual performance of traditional subgroups, including racial minorities and special education students, and gives equal credit to schools for graduating students in four and five years, when four is the national goal.
“It’s a more sophisticated system than AYP and a step in the right direction,” she said. “But it’s unclear what treating four- and five-year graduation rates the same and grouping racial, ethnic, and other student groups together in the actual accountability system will mean for equity.”
Martha Reichrath, deputy state superintendent for curriculum, instruction, assessment and accountability, said the state wanted to give school districts an incentive to encourage students to graduate, even if it takes five years. The rationale for combining all the subgroups was that every child, regardless of ethnicity, is given attention because of performance, she said.
A plus for high schools?
With high schools’ performance a persistent concern, Dana Rickman, policy and research director for the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, sees the potential for the index’s 19 indicators to help pinpoint “exactly where and why they might be struggling.”
“Instead of taking a gunshot approach across the whole school, they can really target in on what those issues may be that are really sort of dragging them down,” she said.
High schools also could be helped because part of the index scoring looks at how well middle schools prepare their students for high school, Rickman said. Middle schools, for example, are scored on the percent of eighth-graders they have who have passed at least four courses in the core content areas of English language arts, math, science and social studies, she said.
“From a research perspective, we know that is highly predictive of how students are going to do in high school,” Rickman said.
Mike Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and a well-known education analyst, said “Georgia’s major challenge will be in explaining such a complicated index to educators and parents.”
Herb Garrett, executive director of the Georgia School Superintendents Association, said: “If you’re really going to do something that takes into consideration all the nuances of what schools are all about, then it can’t be simple.”
Robert Avossa, superintendent of Fulton County Schools, has recommended that his principals work through their local school advisory councils and school governance councils to address questions about the index, particularly after parents have had time over the summer to sift through the details.
“Quite frankly, I believe our parents will be receptive to the new model,” Avossa said. “I just think it’s going to take some time.”
The index also is likely to continue to evolve, he said.
“I think over time we’ll get smarter about what ought to be included.”
How we got this story
The AJC compared schools’ adequate yearly progress status for 2010-2011 with their scores on the new College and Career Ready Performance Index for 2011-2012 based on each school’s unique identification number. Our analysis includes all schools for which the state reported AYP status in 2010-2011 and a score on the College and Career index in 2011-2012. The analysis excludes schools for which the state did not report results in either year or which changed their school ID number from one year to the next. We also talked to education experts, parents and State School Superintendent John Barge about both measures and how the data will be used.