Georgia’s persistently lowest-performing schools identified

Schools that routinely perform at the bottom in Georgia could be targeted for intervention and possible takeover by the state, and nearly half of them are in metro Atlanta.

A new state law targets schools based on their repeat performances on the annual report card for schools, which was released Thursday. Those with scores averaging in the bottom 5 percent over three years get placed on the list for potential intervention.

The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement crunched the numbers and on Friday released the official list of “turnaround eligible schools.” Of the 104 lowest performers in Georgia, 41 are in metro Atlanta — 16 each in Atlanta and DeKalb County, eight in Fulton County and one in Clayton County.

They could be targeted for “turnaround” plans mandated by the state. Failure to fulfill the plans could have consequences including wholesale replacement of teachers and principals and even removal of the schools from school district management.

MORE: See how Georgia schools did on CCRPI scores 2017

Superintendents of the big metro Atlanta districts pointed to progress they’ve already achieved in their listed schools and some suggested that Georgia officials look elsewhere to intervene.

“I’m glad that the state is doing what they’re doing but we’ve already started our process,” said Meria Carstarphen, superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools. Her counterpart in Fulton County, Jeff Rose, said he will get all his schools off the state’s list within three years.

“I actually would rather be left alone,” Rose said. “I feel really confident that we’re going to be able to do for ourselves what the state is going to try to do to support schools.”

As evidence of their success, Carstarphen, Rose and the superintendents in Clayton and DeKalb counties noted that they had fewer schools on the state intervention list this year than in years past.

That is at least in part because Georgia changed the rules. In prior years, schools earned the designation “chronically failing” by scoring less than 60 points for three years in a row on the College and Career Ready Performance Index, the annual school report card produced by the Georgia Department of Education.

MORE: Georgia schools did better on report card, but there are caveats

RELATED: Georgia hires first school ‘turnaround’ chief

The First Priority Act passed this year changed the criteria to include only schools with a 3-year average score in the bottom 5 percent. Any school with a 54 or better escaped this year’s list.

For example, Perkerson Elementary School south of downtown Atlanta scored a 56.9 on the most recent report card, for the 2016-17 school year. That was down nearly a full point from the prior year, and would have qualified the school for the old list. But Perkerson’s 3-year average of just over 54 points was just above the new threshold.

Other schools did improve, though. Towns Elementary in northwest Atlanta earned a 13-point increase on the report card with a score of 68.3.

Atlanta has been giving its under-performers extra attention. The district said most saw gains in all subjects tested by the Georgia Milestones, the state standardized tests that inform the school report card. The students get extra tutors and specialists in math and reading. Teachers get special training. Some schools got new principals, and several were even turned over to outside managers — independent, non-profit operators with a background in charter schools.

MORE: Five things to know about Georgia Milestones tests

Under the new law, a newly appointed Chief Turnaround Officer will select schools from the bottom 5 percent to receive state attention. The schools will get a “root cause analysis” of their problems, and a plan to address them, negotiated between the district, the state and the community.

The Georgia Board of Education hired Eric Thomas for the job. He starts Nov. 16, and spoke on Thursday at a conference for education leaders.

The former school principal has been consulting on school turnaround efforts around the country in his role leading a joint venture between the business and education schools at the University of Virginia. He said he and the school board are “still figuring out exactly” what his job will look like, but he said he will have a collaborative approach.

“If you want people to change, you have to involve them in the change,” he said, adding that he plans to meet with educators, parents, students, business people and others in the communities where he targets schools for the difficult work of improvement. “Because it’s difficult,” he said, “I think it’s important to pull everybody to the table.”

Staff writer Vanessa McCray contributed to this article.

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