Ga. Department of Education

Schools, districts to be graded beyond test scores

by The Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — The Georgia Department of Education plans to give parents a detailed look at schools' performance that will rely on more than just test scores.

The department will release grades for schools and districts under a new system meant to go beyond just standardized tests, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.The new system is called the College and Career Ready Performance Index. It was a central part of the state's successful application for a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind performance measures, which officials around the country have said were unrealistic.

The new system will assign a grade from zero to 100 for each school and district. The grade will be based on factors such as graduation rate, performance on standardized tests, student attendance, academic growth and success in closing the performance gap between different groups of students. This eliminates No Child Left Behind's "adequate yearly progress" measure and the "needs improvement" designation that many did not like.

Extra points can be earned 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 yet to decide what, if any, assistance will be offered for schools and districts that score low grades. The state currently has an assistance program for schools that rank as "priority," ''focus" or "alert" schools. Those designations are based on graduation rates, student performance and the school's percentage of low-income students.

State officials expect to release the new scores for 2011-12 on an advisory basis later this month. Scores for the current school year are set to come out in the fall.

State officials are preparing for some backlash from schools that may have met the requirements under No Child Left Behind but end up with low grades under the new system.

"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.

At a recent two-hour seminar for school officials and journalists, state education officials handed out a 40-page explainer and acknowledged that the new system is incredibly detailed. But they say that level of detail is necessary to give a true measure of performance.

Academic progress will count for 15 percent of a school's or district's grade. How students perform on certain standardized tests — or achievement — 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.

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."

Frank Petruzielo, the superintendent of the Cherokee County School District, said the new rating system seems to be a big improvement, but he said he has some concerns about tying such a big part of the grade to standardized tests.

"We still have a ways to go before these tests are considered valid and reliable and will stand the test of time," Petruzielo said.

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."



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