Relief could be on the way for Georgia schools that narrowly miss making "adequate yearly progress."
The Georgia Department of Education plans to apply to the U.S. Department of Education to become one of 10 states able to use different consequences based on the degree to which schools missed making adequate progress.
Currently, per the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools that don't make adequate progress for two consecutive years in the same subject area of the basic-skills tests their students take are placed in "needs improvement."
Those schools face consequences, which get stiffer the longer they remain classified as needs improvement. Escalating sanctions include tutoring and choice for parents to move their child to a school making progress.
Georgia's position is that "a school that gets on needs improvement for missing AYP in one subgroup for two years shouldn't be treated the same as one that missed it across the board," said Dana Tofig, spokesman for the state Department of Education, on Friday.
A subgroup is a student classification based on race, ethnicity, poverty and other factors.
More than half of Georgia's schools that didn't make AYP last year missed the mark by failing in just one indicator.
East Hall Middle missed the mark because five students didn't pass the math portion of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, said Eloise Barron, Hall schools' assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.
Had the school made AYP, it would have taken at least one step toward climbing out of the needs improvement hole it has now been in for eight years.
The school needs to make adequate progress for two consecutive years before it can shed that label.
Barron said she believes East Hall Middle would benefit should the federal law, which is up for reauthorization, eventually "embrace this provision or Georgia becomes one of the pilot states for differentiated consequences."
The school "would be recognized for the improvements made by the principal, teachers and students, rather than suffer consequences at the same level of severity as schools where large numbers of students are not achieving at acceptable levels," she said.
U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings' announcement in March to start a test program for states on easing the restrictions was embraced by State Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox.
"This is great news," she said. "This will allow for more strategic use of data and interventions to specifically help students that are falling behind."
Area school officials applauded the state's interest in joining the program. "This would be a move in the right direction for Georgia's schools and children," said Will Schofield, superintendent of the Hall County school system.
"Currently, the labels we place on ... schools, positive or negative, often hang in the balance of the performance of as few as one to five children in a special education or English language learner subgroup."
Steven Ballowe, superintendent of the Gainesville school system, said: "This flexibility is a great change and one that Gainesville supports."
He added: "With the recent announcements that Georgia students are beginning to perform at national levels, which is directly related to (No Child Left Behind) accountability, this flexibility supports a more fair accountability."