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New program helps students who fall behind

POSTED: February 28, 2008 5:01 a.m.
ROBIN MICHENER NATHAN/The Times

East Hall High student Daisy Hernandez, 16, works in a credit-recovery lab Wednesday afternoon at the school. The new program, which proved to be a success at Gainesville High School, is being tried at East Hall and Johnson high schools to help increase graduation rates.

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East Hall and Johnson high schools have started a computer-driven instructional program to help students make up credits needed to graduate or shore up academic weaknesses before taking the state’s all-important graduation tests.

Hall County schools has spent $157,000 on software for the "credit-recovery labs" at the schools, in what could end up being a districtwide initiative.

The school system "has been offering the opportunity for students to recover credit for some time, before and after school," said Johnson principal Damon Gibbs.

"But looking around at other systems and how they were addressing the needs of the students who were not performing very well in classes or on the (graduation tests), we saw that many systems in our area and all over (Georgia) ... were putting in" the labs, he added.

One of those schools was Gainesville High School, which saw its graduation rate soar to 81 percent last year from 65 percent the previous year.

Johnson High’s graduation rate dropped to 65 percent last year from 68 percent the previous year. East Hall’s rate increased to 59 percent last year from 58 percent the previous year.

East Hall didn’t make "adequate yearly progress" last year because its graduation rate didn’t meet the new 65 percent requirement under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

And this year, schools must have a 70 percent graduation rate to make adequate progress.

A school that doesn’t make adequate progress for two years in a particular testing area is deemed as "needs improvement" and must face an escalating series of sanctions as long as it holds that label.

Aside from school consequences, the principals said they are excited about the program’s prospects for students.

"We have some (students) who would take every class this way, if they could," Gibbs said. "The speed to which you obtain success can be determined by your learning style. Those who are more computer (savvy) ... will move at a faster pace through this software."

The program "is not simply sitting down and reading through material on a screen," Gibbs added. "There are video clips of actual teachers presenting the material. ... It’s a different way to teach."

East Hall principal Jeff Cooper said he believes the "most powerful piece" of the program, which has about 200 students between both schools, has yet to be realized.

The schools are looking at also helping students struggling in any of their academic classes.

"We could bring them into the lab and remediate — catch them before they fail," Cooper said.

The program uses an intervention technique already with the program’s graduation test component.

Students get recommended based on performances on graduation pretests.

Stephanie Morotti, a Johnson High senior, said she has taken the graduation test, but is struggling in science, which is common for students throughout Georgia.

"I’ve struggled in science through high school," she said. "It’s one of the harder classes for me."

Morotti said she believes the program is a "good opportunity for people like me who need help in certain areas."

"Not everybody is a genius," she added with a laugh.

The two principals plan to present to the Hall County Board of Education in August on "the results we got this year" with the program, Gibbs said.

High school juniors and seniors are set to take graduation tests March 17-21. Students must pass all their graduation tests to earn a diploma.

The state will issue a report in the summer on whether schools throughout Georgia made adequate yearly progress.

Will Schofield, Hall schools’ superintendent, said that "depending upon success, we hope to make this opportunity available at all high schools."



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