New school scores show midstate’s successes, laggards

Telegraph staffMay 7, 2013 

When it comes to preparing students for college and careers, some Middle Georgia schools excel while others are behind, according to state test data released Tuesday.

On the new College and Career Ready Performance Index, which allows scores up to 100 but also has bonus points, both the highest and lowest scores went to schools in the Houston County system. Quail Run Elementary and Lake Joy Primary schools earned nearly perfect scores of 99.1, while Houston County’s alternative school -- now known as the Houston County Crossroads Center -- scored a 33.7. Such alternative schools did not fare well across the state, with some earning fewer than 15 total points.

Eight Bibb County schools, including Southwest and Westside high schools, scored under 50. Each of Bibb County’s districtwide scores fell below state averages, with the Bibb County high school average score just over 55, or 17.5 points below the state high school average.

For the first time, school districts are being scored differently since Georgia was granted a waiver from the old system under the No Child Left Behind law, which was beset by controversy. State officials developed a new accountability system, which they rolled out this spring.

The scores are determined mainly by students’ performances on statewide exams. Other factors also are included in the score, such as graduation and attendance rates. Next academic year, the school districts will receive scores for their financial efficiency and school climate, the Georgia Department of Education said in a release.

Tuesday’s scores were based on standardized tests taken during the previous school year.

Schools and school districts received scores in three areas: achievement, progress and achievement gap. They could receive extra points -- called challenge points -- for having a high percentage of successful children from low-income families, who speak English as a second language or who have disabilities. They could also receive bonus points for going beyond state requirements and challenging students to participate in college and career programs, according to the release.

Those scores were calculated to provide the districts with an overall score. On average, elementary schools across the state received an 83.4, while middle schools got a score of 81.4, and high schools received a 72.6.

“We know that there are many of our schools that are not where we want them to be,” state Superintendent John Barge said Tuesday during a conference call.

In Bibb County, the district fell below the average with high schools receiving an average 55.1, middle schools a 65.7 and elementary schools a 68.2. Several other school districts across the midstate region also missed the mark.

Susanne Griffin-Ziebart, Bibb County’s acting superintendent, said in a statement that officials plan to further analyze the data to plan improvements. A new data management system should help the district stay on top of the numbers, she said.

“This accountability system is new so we have yet to meaningfully dissect these initial results,” Griffin-Ziebart wrote in the statement. “However, we are anxious to see how our schools compare to the various accountability indicators related to student achievement.”

The school system did not answer other Telegraph questions about the scores, such as where Bibb County sees room for improvement, by Tuesday evening.

Separately, Houston County schools surpassed the state average, with high schools averaging a 75.5, middle schools an 88.2 and elementary schools an 89.6.

“Overall, I’m pleased. I’m certainly proud of the work our teachers and principals have put in,” Houston County Superintendent Robin Hines said. “We’ve always been a high-achieving system, and that appears to happen again on this measure.”

Hines added that the district can improve, and the new accountability system should help school officials by showing them how much progress they have made and how far they have to go.

Some other Middle Georgia districts reported strong scores, particularly in earlier levels.

Of 190 elementary school systems, Bleckley County’s elementary schools were ranked the seventh best in the state, with Putnam County schools at 16 and Houston County at 29. On the other side, Hancock County schools were ranked 187th, or the fourth worst.

Middle Georgia high schools fared poorly in the state rankings. Of 184 high school systems in the state, Twiggs County’s ranked 179th, followed by Hancock County at 178 and Bibb County at 177. The best showing for an area high school system was in Monroe County, ranked 51st. Houston County’s high school system was tied for 67th position.

“We’re very pleased with our performance, but it is a baseline year,” Monroe County Superintendent Anthony Pack said. “It is brand-new data. ... Now we have to look at the data as it is.”

While some schools posted excellent scores and others fell behind, the new data did not provide a shock factor for state officials, Barge said.

“I don’t know that there were any huge surprises” in the new data, he said.

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751 or email jmink@macon.com. To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251 or email mstucka@macon.com.

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