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Most Hall schools meet Adequate Yearly Progress levels
Only half succeed in Gainesville
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Hall County schools fared better than most in meeting Adequate Yearly Progress, according to preliminary statewide numbers released Thursday by the Georgia Department of Education. Gainesville, however, fared worse.

Almost 37 percent of Georgia schools have not made AYP. In Hall County, 18.2 percent missed the mark, and in Gainesville, 50 percent.

The number of schools meeting AYP statewide plummeted this year as standards were raised. Those standards are based on several factors — test participation rates, Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests

scores, graduation test scores and graduation rates, and exactly what is used can vary from school to school.

The data is part of the federal No Child Left Behind law, which aims to have all children on grade level in math and reading by 2014.

Each state sets the level of what is considered proficient and how much schools must improve each year. But many left the biggest leaps for the final years in hopes the law would be changed before then.

Schools that repeatedly fail to meet benchmarks face sanctions, such as having to offer tutoring and allow students to transfer to higher performing schools in the same district. Some schools must fire teachers, replace their principal or shut down if they spend multiple years on the "needs improvement" list.

"Every state is facing this," said Georgia schools Superintendent John Barge. "The bottom line is, in the realities of 2014, I don't think anybody thinks we'll get there."

Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer echoed those sentiments.

"The magic thing is by 2014 everyone is supposed to be perfect, which is totally unrealistic," she said.

The jump in standards affected several local high schools that depend on graduation rates to meet AYP.

The graduation rate must be 85 percent, but Gainesville High School's is 84.9 percent. Jackson County High School, with 83.5 percent, also missed the mark.

The numbers do not include summer school graduates, which will be reflected when final AYP scores are released in September.

"We anticipate that's going to be higher, but a tenth or two short of 85," said Ris'e Hawley, Jackson County Schools assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.

Hawley said she was not sure whether a mistake was made calculating East Jackson High's AYP, as its graduation rate is 85.2 percent, yet it is still listed as not making AYP.

All students who enter a high school in the ninth grade must either graduate from that high school or be accounted for elsewhere, otherwise they are considered a dropout, which lowers the school's graduation rate.

White County High School had a 90 percent graduation rate but needs one student in the economically disadvantaged subgroup to pass the math graduation test in order to make AYP, Superintendent Paul Shaw said.

High school students must score a 516 on the graduation test in order to help schools meet the academic performance portion of AYP. In Georgia, they only need a 500 to graduate.

Dyer said it is important to remember preliminary CRCT and graduation test results, released earlier this year, do not tell the full AYP story.

Students' scores are counted more than once. They each count in the "all students" subgroup, an ethnic subgroup, and possibly in three others: English Language Learner, economically disadvantaged and students with disabilities.

Because not all test-takers had scores counted in the preliminary results, some schools with poor test scores ended up making preliminary AYP.

"If they passed, they will really ramp you up," Dyer said. "Fair Street (International Baccalaureate World School) made AYP but Enota (Multiple Intelligences Academy) didn't. And when I saw that, I thought, ‘The scores were in the paper and Enota's scores are exemplary, but there's one subgroup, ELL, where they didn't hit the mark.' Fair Street's look so terrible, but they got ramped up."

Using Fair Street as an example, Dyer said students who count in multiple categories must be considered. The scores of students who were not enrolled at the school all year are then removed for the purposes of AYP.

Because different schools across the state have variation in subgroups and exactly what they're scored on when it comes to AYP, the numbers can be an "apples to oranges or pears to plums" comparison, Dyer said.

"It's not comparable. So that's why people in education, it makes them so freaky because the public perception is you made AYP and they get awards for that," she said. "It's not like we've never gotten any awards, but we feel like we really earn them when we get them because we have to work a lot harder."

Federal lawmakers say the Bush-era law is broken and long overdue for an overhaul, though little has been done to address that in Congress. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has called for the law to be rewritten by the fall, but federal lawmakers say that won't happen.

"The momentum of improvement is certainly not continuing, and yet, I think the schools and teachers are working harder than ever," said Tim Callahan, spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, which represents more than 80,000 educators in the state. "You make people work harder and harder in goals that are increasingly difficult to achieve. Meanwhile you're taking then funding out from under them year by year by year. That's a triple whammy."

Associated Press contributed to this report