The Hall County and Gainesville City school systems participated in one of the biggest and most complicated grants in the state over the last four years, and the report on its impact found reasons for optimism.
The Race to the Top Report, released in late December, was commissioned by the Georgia Partnership for Excellence to give “outside eyes” to evaluate the work of the grant, according to Merrianne Dyer, education consultant and former Gainesville City Schools superintendent. The report looks at four years of work, touts the $400 million grant’s achievements and addresses its issues.
According to the report, the grant included nearly 30 projects that fall, for the most part, into five categories: project management, standards and assessments, data system development, providing great teachers and leaders and turning around the lowest-achieving schools.
What does that mean?
Many teachers asked the same thing throughout the last four years, according to the report’s conclusion.
“Many teachers and school and district leaders initially did not understand the relevance of the individual reforms or how they all fit together,” the report states. “Initial frustration was high, especially in the classroom, where all 28 individual projects came together.”
To address the issue, communication soon became a focus of the grant. The massive scale and scope of the project was a challenge in implementation, and required large-scale policy changes at state and district levels. But better communication helped in that area as well.
The reforms resulting from the grant are still fresh, and it could take years to determine how effectively they are working. However, the report claims there is reason to be optimistic about improvements in student achievement and progress.
“Between 2011 and 2014, high school graduation rates have increased from 67.5 percent to 72.5 percent,” the report states. “... In addition, the number of students taking the ACT has dramatically increased, while the scores have remained steady. This is unusual.”
According to the report, when more students are taking a standardized test, typically the average will fall. This has not happened in the last four years for the ACT or the SAT.
The report concludes with the notion Georgia has “done a good job” of identifying areas needing educational reform, but needs to make changes and improvements.
The state needs a vision, and it needs to make sure its teachers and school leaders see the same.
“Taking the lessons learned over the past four years, Georgia leaders need to work together to come up with a new roadmap, or blueprint, to clearly identify where the state is now headed and how we will get there,” states the report.
Kristen Oliver covers education issues for The Times. Share your thoughts, news tips and questions with her: