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6 Gainesville, Hall schools fail to make AYP
Administrators say test scores don't tell whole story
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Schools that missed AYP

Gainesville City Schools
Gainesville Middle School
Wood's Mill Academy

Hall County Schools
Sardis Enrichment School
South Hall Middle School
West Hall Middle School
Lanier Charter Career Academy

Click here to see a full list of AYP results.

Six of the 41 schools in Gainesville and Hall County systems did not make Adequate Yearly Progress for 2011, according to final results released Wednesday.

Gainesville Middle School and Wood’s Mill Academy in the Gainesville system and Sardis Enrichment School, South Hall Middle School, West Hall Middle School and Lanier Charter Career Academy in the Hall system were among the 27 percent of Georgia schools that did not make AYP.

“We did not expect we would (make AYP),” Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said. “We weren’t too far off but they determine that by putting together all the scores, both the Georgia High School Graduation Test and the (Criterion-Referenced Competency Test). We didn’t have quite enough to meet that new target.”

AYP is a key component of the 2001 No Child Left Behind legislation and measures year-to-year student achievement.

The CRCT is administered to third- through eighth-graders. It looks at their ability to answer questions in five subject areas — reading, English-language arts, math, science and social studies. Only the math and combined reading and English-language arts scores are taken into account for AYP, however.

High school juniors take the graduation test.The same areas are looked at to determine AYP.

"For AYP in a district, they add all of the students together by group and subgroup. All students in grades three through eight in the district and in grade 11 ... have to hit the targets," Dyer said.

Targets require 75.5 percent must meet or exceed math standards and 80 percent must meet or exceed combined reading/English-language arts standards. Schools also must meet test participation rates and second indicators, which in Gainesville and Hall County schools are either graduation or attendance rates.

The benchmarks rise each year so that by 2014, all students are expected to perform at the top AYP standards.

"Even districts that don't have a lot of English language learners or poverty students are struggling too, now," Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said. "They're seeing the fact that this isn't as easy as it looks."

Gainesville Middle is in Needs Improvement III status because it hasn't met AYP in several years, meaning it must offer public school choice.

"It does determine that we will have to spend our professional learning funds on professional learning in those areas instead of being able to choose where we spend them, but as far as any other sanctions, there are not any," Dyer said.

The school did not meet AYP for English language learners in math or reading/English-language arts scores in students with disabilities and English language
learners subgroups.

"The great thing is, all of our exceeds percentages went up in every subgroup. Our scores are higher than ever before," Gainesville Middle Principal Ken Martin said.

"We're closing the achievement gap."

Wood's Mill, a nontraditional school in the Gainesville system, did meet AYP math requirements.

"We had all but three students pass it, but they made between a 500 and a 516," said Lisa Sheehy, co-director at Wood's Mill.

In order for students to count as graduates under AYP, they must score a 516, even though they can score a 500 and still graduate under state requirements.

Lanier Charter Career Academy, a nontraditional high school in the Hall system, is in its first year of Needs Improvement, meaning it must offer either public school choice or tutoring. Schofield said because the school doesn't have a required attendance zone and uses alternative education models, the status won't affect it much.

The school did not meet AYP due the number of students taking the graduation test and academic performance in math and reading/English-language arts. In addition, it was the only high school in the area to not meet its second indicator, graduation rate.

Many schools missed math requirements because of certain subgroups, including English language learners, Hispanics and economically disadvantaged. Those schools include Sardis Enrichment School, South Hall Middle and West Hall Middle. West Hall Middle also struggled to meet the AYP in the reading/English-language arts scores due to certain subgroup's scores.

"We moved out of the (students with disabilities) math category," South Hall Middle Principal Paula Stubbs said. "It hurts that our English language learners' scores in the math are not where we need them."

Stubbs said what makes the math test so difficult for students is that it uses not just concepts but academic vocabulary as well.

"If they don't understand what a fraction is, then any other multiplication or division of fractions or conversion of fractions to decimals makes no sense," she said.

Karla Swafford, principal at West Hall Middle, said she also sees this problem.

"We focus on pre-teaching vocabulary, so when they hear it in their math class, it won't be the first time they've heard it," she said.

Schofield said schools should not be shocked that certain subgroups are underperforming.

"When your primary language is not English and your test is heavily English ... it shouldn't surprise us they don't perform well on tests," Schofield said.

He said there are opportunities for English language learners to have alternative testing arrangements, such as having the test read to them in their primary language, but the district "doesn't have the horsepower" to read tests individually to several hundred kids.

Schofield said standardized test scores are important indicators of student achievement, but they should not be the only ones.

"What we ought to be interested in is growth. ... You can take a look at absolute average scores and make all sorts of assumptions. The real question ought to be where are we getting kids and where are we taking them," he said.

Schofield said instead of judging a school on its AYP status, parents should look at their child's individual test reports and ask their teachers and principals the hard questions about why a student is not improving.

"We always have points of pride," Swafford said. "West Hall Middle School, even though it's not on our AYP report, had the second-highest meet and exceeds rate on the middle grades writing assessment in the county."

Martin said at Gainesville Middle, not making AYP can be "disheartening," but that won't stop them from continuing their mission.

"I don't judge the quality of education that occurs in my building by numbers imposed on us by federal guidelines," he said. "Our goal is to improve our scores every year and we continue to move in that direction."


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