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Officials reviewing state draft of school needs assessment
Closing achievement gaps a top priority
Jeremy Williams --NEW

Closing achievement gaps for some groups of students has been identified as a top priority by both Gainesville City and Hall County school officials in a comprehensive needs assessments required under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Officials with both districts said this week they are finishing their assessments required by Georgia’s Department of Education. The department released a 94-page draft of its plan under the ESSA, which was passed by Congress in 2015 as the replacement for the federal law widely known as No Child Left Behind. The law was designed to give states more flexibility.

Incoming Gainesville City School Superintendent Jeremy Williams doesn’t take office until July 1, but he is currently working on the 2017-18 school year as chief of staff for the district. He said Gainesville’s needs assessment is about 90 percent complete and will be finished by the July 31 deadline.

“The biggest thing that we will deal with for the next year and more will be equity,” said Williams, who added that Gainesville students represent 44 different nationalities. “We have a large percentage of English learners, special education students and high percentages of economically disadvantaged students. What we have to peel back and look at is the equity of those groups. Whatever our highest performing group is, are we closing that gap with all of our populations?”

Kevin Bales, assistant superintendent for Hall County Schools, said his district’s needs assessment is being drafted but has identified achievement gaps that need to be addressed in three groups — black students, students with disabilities and English learners.

“What happens sometimes is we’ll have increases in our overall performance, but even though we have increases sometimes that bodes poorly for achievement gaps,” Bales said. “Let’s say special ed achieved as the same rate as the previous year, but yet, the overall group grew. You actually have a larger gap this year than you did in the last. That can be very concerning.

“From a teaching and learning standpoint, I have concerns sometimes when we focus on achievement gaps because one way to improve the achievement gap is to lower the performance of the highest subgroup — whoever that is — and that allows for the narrowing to happen. And that’s one thing we do not want in our district. We want all of our kids to improve.”

Georgia’s draft plan supports a common framework of improvement that places the whole child at the center and moves Georgia’s accountability system beyond a focus on test scores alone, taking a more personalized approach to educational goals and accountability, according to a news release from the state Department of Education.

The statement added that the department brought together various groups to guide the development of Georgia’s ESSA state plan and feedback from those groups is included in the draft.

Bales said Hall County is continuing to work on the comprehensive needs assessment before its July 31 deadline.

“It’s still a work in progress,” he said. ”I think the improvement plan that is generated in Hall County will have greater impact than in previous years, at least an opportunity to have greater impact than previous years.”

Williams said he hadn’t had time yet to look at the state’s plan in depth, but he and other district officials will take time and submit any feedback within the 30-day timeline prescribed by the state.

“I want to be able to do that and see if it does align with what our needs are, and if it does align with what we have done to make sure we’re aligned with the state,” Williams said. “Obviously, there are going to be a lot of similarities, but there’s going to be some things that are specific to Gainesville City that we want to address. We have to make sure our students and our administrative staff, our board, our community understand that we are here to reach every kid’s potential.

Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said Friday he had not read the report yet, but is “concerned that early information suggested certain teacher endorsements may no longer be necessary to serve students classified as ELL (English-Language Learners) or gifted.”

“I will get involved if those or other issues arise that we do not believe are in the best interests of boys and girls,” Schofield said.

The draft proposal is posted online and anyone can read and comment on it publicly through July 14. To read the plan, two-page overviews of key areas and submit feedback, go to:

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