New school designations
Schools are categorized differently under the new College and Career Ready Performance Index that replaced Adequate Yearly Progress measurements
Priority schools: The bottom 5 percent of schools in the state, based on student achievement (test scores, graduation rate, etc.). The schools must be classified as Title I.
Focus schools: The 10 percent of schools in the state with the largest achievement gap between "high-needs learners" and "nonhigh-needs learners." These schools cannot be on the priority list.
Reward schools: Formerly known as Title I Distinguished schools, or the top 5 percent of schools in Georgia.
Alert schools: Schools with poor numbers in one or more subgroups. These schools can be non-Title I, therefore eligible to receive state and federal resources.
Two area schools have been named "focus" schools under the new statewide school accountability system.
The distinction is aimed at identifying schools needing improvement in closing achievement gaps between "high-needs learners" and "nonhigh-needs learners."
Both Gainesville Middle School and Chicopee Woods Elementary School have been tagged as focus schools by the Georgia Department of Education in preparation for the implementation of the College and Career Ready Performance Index.
Earlier this year, the state was granted a No Child Left Behind waiver by the federal education department, and, as a requirement for that waiver, the state department must identify schools within three categories: priority schools, focus schools and reward schools.
The distinctions, according to State School Superintendent John Barge, allow the federal government to track where their money is being spent.
Georgia also added "alert schools" to the list, which identify those with poor numbers in one or more subgroups and makes them eligible to receive state and federal resources.
Chicopee Woods and Gainesville Middle were both given the "focus" tag because of achievement gaps between subgroups, where one group performs well but another very poorly.
"I'm disappointed," said Will Schofield, Hall County Schools superintendent. "I think this is one of the shortcomings of the new metric. Chicopee is an example of a school that's going to be called a focus school based on the performance of 25 special education students - that was the size of their subgroup."
He said the student body of Chicopee is 700, and under Adequate Yearly Progress - the old accountability system - that subgroup would not have been large enough to count against the school.
"We'll deal with it and move forward and we'll get better because of it," he said.
Gainesville Middle also was cited for an achievement gap.
According to Merrianne Dyer, Gainesville City Schools superintendent, the gap was between all students, the white student subgroup, the Asian subgroup and the students with disabilities subgroup in math.
"Several of the schools designated are Title I Distinguished Schools under the old AYP," Dyer said. "However, the gaps between groups and subgroups resulted in their being named a focus school."
She said the groups show a "30 percentile point range difference" on the spring 2011 Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.
"This is the same information we had last spring, and Gainesville Middle School is addressing this aggressively in their school improvement implementation," Dyer said.
Ken Martin, Gainesville Middle principal, said his school has already addressed the special needs subgroup, and, over the past few years, that group has seen improvement.
"That's an area we've been conscious of for the last few years," Martin said. "Over the last four years, we've made gains in that area."
He said about 10-15 percent of the school is identified as special needs.
There were 152 schools put on the "focus" list by the state department.
"But overall, with 33 schools (in the county), if we have one on that list and it's over that particular issue, I guess we feel pretty good about that," Schofield said.
The new index will become effective next school year and will grade each school on a 0-100 scale, much like a report card. The grade will be based on student achievement, achievement gap closure and progress.