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Schools discuss later start in 09
Pushing back first day could help meet federal standards
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Hear Will Schofield, superintendent for Hall County schools, discuss the proposed later school start.
Representatives from local school districts said they will consider pushing the start of the 2009-2010 school year back to late August.

Georgia Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox has suggested school districts across the state weigh the pros and cons of postponing the 2009-2010 school year to allow the state Department of Education time to include scores from the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests students may retake in June 2009.

The move is intended to improve Georgia’s standing in federal No Child Left Behind requirements.

Instead of basing schools’ Adequate Yearly Progress on the initial April CRCT scores that many third-, fifth- and eighth-graders failed portions of this year, Cox is proposing school districts wait to start classes in late August 2009 until June 2009 retest scores are in and secondary adequate yearly progress, or AYP, scores, including retests, can be calculated for that year.

State education officials said with the inclusion of June 2009 retest scores, more schools could meet the requirements of AYP before the first day of the 2009-2010 school year.

Cox plans to discuss her proposal at the Georgia School Board Association meeting this weekend in Savannah.

Matt Cardoza, spokesman for the Georgia Department of Education, said Cox does not intend to take away local control from school districts.

He said the federal government has already approved later start dates for Georgia schools, and Cox is now trying to create more options for local school districts.

"She’s saying, we have this flexibility. It’s up to you to decide if we want to implement it," Cardoza said.

He said the state Department of Education determines whether each school meets AYP in July.

Students who failed the initial April CRCT this year are currently retaking the test, but their scores are not included in this year’s second AYP determination the state will deliver in early September.

If a school does not meet AYP two years in a row, the school becomes a "needs-improvement" school, requiring it to implement tutoring programs and provide school choice, which allows parents to send their children to nearby schools that meet AYP.

"Currently, if a school makes AYP on the second determination, the consequences are still in place for that year," Cardoza said.

He said the state would need more time before school starts to factor the CRCT retest scores into the September AYP determinations, and including summer retest scores would likely help more schools to meet AYP in 2009.

Cardoza said 36 schools across the state would have made AYP in 2007 if CRCT retests had been included in the September 2007 AYP determinations. Gainesville City School System’s Gainesville Middle School didn’t meet AYP in 2007 and was named a needs-improvement school, along with Hall County schools East Hall Middle, East Hall High, North Hall Middle, South Hall Middle and White Sulphur Elementary.

Shirley Whitaker, assistant superintendent of the Gainesville School System, said she thinks the delay might be a good idea.

"I feel like we need to be at a point that we can count those 20 days of summer school," Whitaker said.

Will Schofield, superintendent of Hall County schools, said he will be attending the meeting in Savannah this weekend and said he and the Hall County school board will consider Cox’s proposal. Schofield said he believes CRCT retest scores already should be included in the second AYP determinations made each year, but he doesn’t support later school starts.

"I’m not against it, I just think it’s not as easy as it sounds," he said. "If we start school 20 days later, that’s going to be 20 days fewer students have to take the test the first time.

"We ought to be basing the school schedule on what’s best for boys and girls to be learning, not to be jumping through hoops to make more kids pass tests on a retest," Schofield said. "What we ought to be focusing on is getting tests graded and turned around in a timely manner ... and getting more students to pass the test the first time."

Lori Cobb has two children in the Hall County School System and said she wouldn’t be opposed to her elementary and middle school-aged kids starting school in late August.

"That’s how it was when I was in school," she said.

Cobb said that, as a parent and assistant kindergarten teacher in Hall County, she is concerned about AYP, but she’s also concerned about the pressure school systems put on young students taking the CRCT. She said if school is pushed back for 20 days, she would like to see the test also postponed 20 days.

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