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Schools will soon be judged on new criteria

POSTED: April 1, 2013 12:14 a.m.

A new way to measure school success is rolling out as early as this week, and local school officials say it’s a baby step in the right direction.

The College & Career Ready Performance Index will look at a lot more data than its predecessor, Adequate Yearly Progress, and it will provide schools with a total score out of 100 instead of just a pass or fail. The new index is part of a waiver the state was granted from the No Child Left Behind Act.

But Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield is concerned the index is still paying too much attention to test scores and not enough to how students are growing.

“I know there are schools full of children that perform well but could do much better, and I know there are schools full of children that do not perform well that have made tremendous growth, and I think we’ve got to be cognizant of that,” he said. “And we’ve got to start zeroing in on how we measure that factor.”

The new index is made up of a total of 73 indicators of how a school is performing. Achievement is weighted at 70 percent of the score, progress at 15 percent and achievement gap, or the difference between well-performing and underperforming groups, at 15 percent.

Achievement is then further broken down and measured on three factors: 40 percent of the score is based on how well students master the content, as shown in test scores; 30 percent on how ready they are for the next level; and another 30 percent on graduation rate or a predictor of that rate for lower grades.

Schools also can earn up to 10 bonus points for the achievement of economically disadvantaged students, those learning English and those with disabilities, as well as points for going above and beyond, such as more students passing world language or fine arts courses in elementary school; schools participating in charter programs; percentage of high school students taking college entrance exams; and students completing career-related programs or choosing career pathways, among many factors.

It’s all a lot more complicated than AYP, which measured just seven indicators, most of which were tied to Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests scores in English, language arts and math and graduation tests for high school students. AYP also looked at attendance and graduation rates.

For each portion of the new index, there’s a list of different ways that particular component can be measured. For example, post-high-school readiness can be measured on the percentage of graduates earning two or more credits in the same world language, attendance rate, the percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectations on the Georgia High School Writing Test and the percentage not requiring remediation once they get to college.

“The challenge for us is that this is so complex — the complexity of 73 items that are all calculated with so many different formulas and percentages — it will be very hard for us to predict in any way shape or form what the outcome will look like,” said Jamey Moore, director of curriculum and instruction at Gainesville City Schools.

One thing Gainesville system officials do know is that they have a higher level of students in poverty and students learning English than most systems in the state, and that could put the system at a disadvantage, Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said. But then again, the new measure does include a component for growth, which could mean high-achieving schools under AYP won’t do quite as well under the new measure.

“It doesn’t matter what accountability instrument you use, schools that serve a lot of diverse, higher-poverty children have more challenges,” Dyer said. “And when you put them into comparative arenas like this, you’re disadvantaging them.”

Kevin Bales, school improvement specialist at Hall County Schools, said he also is concerned the scores will mirror socioeconomic status. Hall County has a wider variety in its schools than the city system, but some of those schools, such as Lyman Hall Elementary, have high rates of students learning English and thus may not perform well.

And though the new index does measure growth, it’s not weighted heavily, and Schofield called it an artificial component, because it’s measured using CRCT scores, a test not designed to measure growth.

“As a fourth-grade parent looking at a score of 820 versus a child that got 810 on the same area as a third-grader, there is no measure of growth, no correlation between those two scores,” he said.

“At least we’re looking at more data points. We can argue about how they ought to be weighted and where we go from here, but again, I think that’s a very positive step in the right direction.”

Gainesville leaders also are glad more is being measured, but they’re concerned it’s so complicated that the meaning of the scores will get lost.

And the new index is such a huge change that they really aren’t sure what to expect in terms of scores. Schofield, on the other hand, said he expects similar results as the AYP.

And for those concerned when they see their school’s score, Dyer had a bit of advice.

“How is your child doing? Look at the achievements of our schools and our school system outside of this, and then make your decision about what grade you think your school could get,” she said. “In other words, this doesn’t say it all.”

Leaders noted that the scores being released this year won’t have consequences for schools as the state department continues to work out the kinks of the index. The data actually will be last year’s data shown through the new lens of the index, not new data, Dyer said. And the results could show where improvements can be made not just at the schools but with the index, too.

Dyer said it will give school leaders a chance to go to the Department of Education and tell officials what doesn’t make sense. She said the department has included schools in the process and been responsive.

“I am going to, as a superintendent, question it. ... If it doesn’t make sense to us, we’re going to backtrack it through, explain how and why we ended up there,” Dyer said of the scores.

Bales said at the end of the day, the county system will continue “to strive to meet the educational needs of every student.” That includes developing students’ passions in particular areas, something the index doesn’t measure, and “this is not about a point sum, it’s about doing right by our kids.”

Schofield called the index a Herculean effort on the part of the state.

“This is something radically different than we’ve done in the past. And let’s get the data out, look at it and decide what we’ve done right, what we’ve done wrong, what we need to refine,” he said. “And so I’ve appreciated that mindset that this is radically different than anything we’ve done in the past, and it’s going to take some time to get our arms around it.”

School leaders said they are unsure when the scores will be released, but expect it may be this month.


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