AYP results mixed in midstate

All schools in Houston, Monroe and Bleckley counties met federal testing goals this year, but results across Middle Georgia were a mixed bag, based on an initial report Tuesday.

The state Department of Education released its preliminary list of schools that met annual goals under the No Child Left Behind law for 2009. The results, which take into account everything from student test scores and graduation rates to attendance, determine whether schools — and school systems — made Adequate Yearly Progress for the school year.

Under the law, all states must have an accountability plan, called AYP, that checks whether a school has progressed in getting its students — including students with disabilities — achieving on grade level. Schools also have to show gains on graduation rates or have a high student attendance rate.

In Houston County, school leaders were “ecstatic” that all 35 schools in the system made AYP — a first for the district, said Wanda Creel, the county’s assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.

“Only 46 of the state’s 183 systems can make that claim this year,” Creel said. “We have 35 schools and more than 26,000 students. That’s just incredible.”

In order to make AYP, a high school had to have a 75 percent graduation rate, or at least a 55 percent graduation rate with a 10 percentage point gain from the previous year. Sub-groups, such as students will disabilities, must also meet the standard. The graduation rate for Houston’s students with disabilities was 45.8 percent, with 88 of 192 seniors earning a regular diploma. In 2008, the graduation rate for students with disabilities was 57.6 percent.

Even though all Houston schools made AYP this year, the school system itself did not.

“The only reason the system did not make AYP was the graduation rate of students with disabilities,” Creel said. Even if students with disabilities earned a special education diploma or passed the Georgia Alternative Assessment, it did not count in determining AYP, she said.

“It’s an all-or-nothing setup,” Creel said. That one indicator not met out of 25 affected the entire report for the system.

In Bibb County, 19 of 41 schools made AYP in 2009, which meant more schools met goals this year than in to 2008. In July 2008, 14 of 41 Bibb schools made AYP.

“We’ve seen improvements, and that’s encouraging,” said Bruce Giroux, Bibb’s director of student testing. “We’ve gone up five more schools making AYP in this time frame compared to last year.”

Schools that missed the mark this year included Bruce, Burghard, Carter, Hartley, Ingram-Pye, King-Danforth, Riley, Taylor and Union elementary schools. Many of them didn’t have enough students who passed state exams in math or reading.

Appling, Ballard-Hudson, Bloomfield, Howard and Weaver middle schools also missed AYP, as well as all seven Bibb high schools.

For schools such as Hutchings, Central, Northeast, Rutland, Westside and Southwest high schools, graduation rates seemed to prove problematic, as well as math test scores.

“Hutchings was one or two students away from meeting it,” Giroux said. The high school had a 72 percent graduation rate.

Bibb school board member Ella Carter said it’s a concern when schools don’t make yearly benchmarks, but it doesn’t always mean that a school is inferior.

“I’m concerned that they make it. It is one of the standards,” she said. “But there are so many circumstances that can happen that a school has no control.”

For example, a student who enrolls at one school as a ninth-grader and moves to another school by their senior year can be categorized as a dropout, which counts against AYP, she said.

“But when we miss in the area of math, I’m very concerned,” she said. “We have to recruit good teachers, and once we get them, we’ve got to keep them.”

That, she said, helps with getting students more skilled at math and with test-taking in general.

In Jones County, six of the eight schools met AYP this year, while in Peach County, two of six schools met goals.

Byron and Hunt elementary schools, Fort Valley Middle and Peach County High missed academic performance goals.

Peach County High also did not meet the graduation rate indicator. It went down from 74.9 percent in 2008 to 73.2 percent in 2009, with 194 of 265 seniors graduating.

Of the subgroups, only the Hispanic students, at 91.3 percent, exceeded the required 75 percent level, with 21 of 23 Hispanic students graduating.

Susan Clark, Peach County superintendent, said via an e-mail that improving scores on standardized tests was not the focus this past school year.

“Our teachers did and are doing exactly what I asked them to do — focus on improving instructional practice, not drilling and killing kids for the test,” said Clark. “Although I believe it will take us about two more years to accomplish, I still am convinced that if we continue to put our efforts into improving our practice, teach our students at high levels and provide them the extra help they need, the test scores will take care of themselves. We are doing exactly what we need to do and time will bear me out.”

Clark added she feels the schools have improved despite not making AYP.

“I am proud of our staff and the hard work and dedication they demonstrate on a daily basis,” she said. “All we have to do is persevere, and we will.”

The state released its initial AYP determinations Tuesday, but they do not include students’ summer retest scores on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, nor retest results from the summer Georgia High School Graduation Test.

More schools are likely to make AYP in September when those scores are factored in and the state releases its final AYP determination round.

For instance, last fall after summer retest scores were added, 25 of 41 Bibb schools made AYP.

Sanctions for schools that miss AYP for two years or more include offering students private tutoring or school choice transfers.

More severe sanctions require schools to be placed in state directed status, meaning a state director comes to work at the school for more oversight. Southwest High School is in state-directed status, and unless Northeast High School makes AYP this fall, that high school also will fall under state direction.

Statewide, nearly 80 percent of public schools made AYP in 2009, a 10 percentage point gain from last school year.

State officials said that after Tuesday’s determination, 58 schools came off a prior “Needs Improvement” status, meaning that they had missed AYP at least twice.

Schools that came off include: Oak Hill Middle in Baldwin; Rutland Middle in Bibb; Crawford County Middle in Crawford; Dublin Middle School in the Dublin city system, West Laurens Middle School in Laurens County and the Georgia Academy for the Blind, located in Macon but not part of the Bibb County school system.

“The middle school is one of 12 formerly state directed schools in Georgia that will exit that status based on their performance this year,” said Crawford County schools spokesman Trey Seagraves. “The entire Crawford County community stands proudly with the middle school and their accomplishments.”