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Local schools make progress; state doesn’t

Fewer systems across state meet No Child Left Behind requirements than last year

POSTED: July 29, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Although nearly one-third of the state’s more than 2,000 public schools failed to meet No Child Left Behind this year, the Gainesville school system maintained its standing and the Hall County school system improved compared to last year.

Data released Friday by the Georgia Department of Education show just 69 percent of schools made "adequate yearly progress," compared to about 82 percent last year. AYP is measured based on math and reading test scores, attendance and graduation rates among other factors.

State school Superintendent Kathy Cox said she expected the results because of the state’s tougher math curriculum, more rigorous tests and heightened requirements for high school students.

"We had for many years just a curriculum that was not adequately preparing kids. We were not exposing our kids to the level that would have our kids be successful not only on our state test, but also on national assessments," Cox said Friday morning. "This is the reality. It just shows me there is more work to be done."

Six of seven schools in the Gainesville school system met AYP for the 2007-08 school year, as well as the entire city system. Like last year, Gainesville Middle School was the only city school that did not meet AYP.

But for the 10th consecutive year, Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy made AYP. Although President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act into law in 2002, some systems were using the now federally mandated measuring tool before then.

All seven of the Hall County school system’s high schools met AYP, five of the system’s six middle schools and 14 of its 20 elementary schools met the requirements, and the district as a whole has been moved off of the "needs-improvement" list.

Lanier Elementary, Chestnut Mountain Elementary, Flowery Branch Elementary, Sugar Hill Elementary, Spout Springs Elementary, White Sulphur Elementary and South Hall Middle School did not meet AYP this year.

But three Hall County schools — Chestatee Middle, Lyman Hall Elementary and Myers Elementary — were moved off the needs-improvment list. East Hall Middle School made AYP for the first time this year.

Schools that miss AYP two years in a row are put on the needs-improvement list. Those schools must offer extra tutoring for struggling students and give parents the option to send their children to another, higher-performing school.

Schools on the needs-improvement list for several years in a row face more severe sanctions, like having to replace teachers and enter into a contract with the state on improving performance.

A news release issued Friday by the state Department of Education explained it was hard for all schools to make AYP in 2008 for two reasons. First, the percentage of students who had to pass state tests, such as the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, in math, reading and English went up for all grade levels. Also, students were doing more rigorous work and taking more rigorous tests in 2008, particularly in mathematics.

Gainesville Middle School did not meet the requirements for AYP in the subgroups for students with disabilities and English language learners in math and reading.

Merrianne Dyer, interim superintendent of Gainesville schools, said it only takes a few students out of a subgroup, such as English language learners, to keep the group from meeting requirements.

"Percentages are difficult when you’ve got a small number in a subgroup, and students with disabilities and English language learners are challenging groups nationwide," Dyer said.

She said many city students seemed to fail the math portion of the spring CRCT due to trouble interpreting the stimulus questions.

"When you have language learners, or students with disabilities who have reading problems, it’s not only that they’re struggling with math, it may be more so that they’re struggling with handling the reading and the language," she said.

Dyer said all system schools will adopt individual learning plans for students who failed the spring CRCT or are at risk of failing this school year’s state tests.

Summer CRCT retests were not included in this round of AYP determinations. Retests will be included in the second round of AYP determinations, which are usually released in September.

"The school improvement plan this year is to focus on teaching the language of math, the vocabulary of math, to those students that are struggling," Dyer said.

Considering the higher standards set for meeting AYP this year, Dyer said she is pleased with the system’s performance.

"I really can’t say how proud we are of everyone, including Gainesville Middle School," she said. "The teachers work very hard there, and they have challenges that we will continue to address. I’m proud of the teachers there and I’m proud of the students there, and I know that working together and being more creative about the way we approach the instruction that I have all the confidence in the world in that school."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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