About the time football season hits high gear, Georgia’s schools enter another portion of the calendar -- data season.
Everything from test scores and demographics to enrollment counts is measured and tracked in schools today, and that effort kicks off in early October and culminates with the all-inclusive College and Career Ready Performance Index in February or March.
“Every single bit matters because it all comes into the final grade, ... so it’s very important,” said Peach County school Superintendent Daryl Fineran.
There are benefits to having more information when governing a school system. Still, officials can often feel overwhelmed with the amount of data that comes through in just a few weeks, said Melissa Fincher, the state’s deputy superintendent for assessment and accountability. She said she hears that sentiment and understands it.
“We’re trying really hard to simplify things to make it more manageable, because it’s so much data coming at them so quickly,” she said.
BY THE NUMBERS
Full-time enrollment counts are among the most crucial data sets and will be completed sometime in the next week. Those are then sorted by grade level, race and gender for each district and school.
Schools’ FTE counts relate directly to funding from the state and will likely be released in early to mid-November. More importantly, the FTE count allows school districts to report how many gifted, special needs and other students that require additional funding are in the system.
“Really, what the FTE count does is it allows us to best serve our students and get them what they need,” said Tony Jones, director of research, evaluation, assessment and accountability for Bibb County schools.
Last year, Bibb County saw a 1.6 percent increase in enrollment while Houston County remained the largest school system in Middle Georgia with more than 28,000 students.
About the same time those numbers are made public, school districts and individual schools will also learn their results from the new Georgia Milestones test. The state numbers came out in early September, with roughly 40 percent of students testing as proficient or better in most grades and subject ares.
That’s significantly lower than the 80 or 90 percent proficiency rates from past assessments, but that was part of a conscious effort by the Georgia Department of Education to get the state’s test results in line with what Georgia’s students scored on national tests.
“These results show a lower level of student proficiency than Georgians are used to seeing, but that does not mean Georgia students know less or that teachers are not doing a great job. It means they’ve been asked to clear a higher bar,” state school Superintendent Richard Woods said in a statement announcing the scores.
In late November, the state will release each district’s four-year cohort graduation rates, one of the most important school data measures. Last year, the state saw a slight increase in graduation overall, but Middle Georgia’s biggest districts did not show the same progress. Bibb County’s percentage fell from 61.1 in 2013 to 58.9 in 2014, while Houston County dropped from 78.8 percent to 77.3 percent.
Peach County’s graduation rate was something of an exception to trends in the area, as it increased from 63.3 percent to 68.6 percent. Fineran said he and other school officials are anxiously awaiting their progress reports for the most recent graduating class.
“You need to continually see improvement in your four-year cohort,” he said. “I think we’ll go up again. ... You want to keep moving up.”
Once officials crunch all those numbers, the test scores and graduation rates will roll into the CCRPI, which is then used to evaluate the achievement of schools and districts.
Statewide, the CCRPI decreased last school year from 2013, and the stakes are about to get even higher.
The CCRPI will be the central number in evaluating Investing in Educational Excellence and charter systems, which came about as part of a state-mandated decision in June. Those were among the types of governing structures that school systems had to choose.
The number would also be the deciding factor for Gov. Nathan Deal’s Opportunity School District, which reaches public vote in 2016.
Monroe County notched the midstate’s highest CCRPI score in 2014 with an 80.8, while Houston County received a 76.6 and Bibb County scored a 62.1.
All that allows school districts to figure out strengths and weaknesses and adjust accordingly, as the CCRPI and Georgia Milestones assess multiple subjects and standards.
“This is really how we can tailor an education within the confines of a traditional classroom,” Jones said.
One issue with all those figures, though, is that they are what school officials call “autopsy data,” released several months after the tests are taken and diplomas are handed out. That means the next year’s procedures already have to be in place by the time last year’s results are known.
Still, with data as publicly accessible as ever before online and in the media, officials like Fineran know that perception is key.
“When you’re going to be compared to everybody else and it’s on the front page, you need to make sure you’re doing your best and competing,” he said.
Fincher said the focus on numbers and how school systems compare to each other is a symptom of the American culture. While she said the data her department provides can be a source for “rich information” and pointed out the more inclusive nature of the CCRPI, Fincher said there was much more that went on in schools that isn’t measured on a test.
“We think everything can be boiled down to a number and that number is definitive, and it’s not true,” she said.
To contact writer Jeremy Timmerman, call 744-4331 or find him on Twitter @MTJTimm.