School boards left to ponder late start to school year

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.comart' idea

Local school boards across Georgia are pondering the idea of starting the school year later than normal, in order to better meet state and federal standards.

The idea is to have the state's public school districts start the year in late August, in order to give schools a better chance at meeting federally mandated benchmarks. To implement such an idea would require a near-unanimous decision among the state's school boards.

On June 17, the U. S. Department of Education sent State Superintendent Kathy Cox a letter approving a request to count summer Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT) retest scores for official "adequate yearly progress" determinations.

Cox addressed the Georgia School Boards Association on June 20, during its annual conference and delegate assembly in Savannah, Ga. There, she posed the idea of later school calendar starts to school board delegates from around the state and left the discussion to school boards on whether to pursue later starts.

The CRCTs, Georgia's curriculum-based academic assessments, are used to help determine whether schools in the state meet federal benchmarks under the No Child Left Behind Act. CRCT results are used as a state benchmark assessment to determine whether schools and school districts have made adequate yearly progress, or AYP.

Students in transition grades (three, five, and eight) are required by state law to pass certain portions of the spring-administered CRCT in order to be promoted a grade level. With few exceptions, those students who fail the required test must take remedial courses and retake the CRCT during the following summer.

Henry County Board of Education Chairman Ray Hudalla said he is interested in hearing more on the idea to include the retest scores in the state's AYP determination.

"I am interested in hearing what Superintendent Cox has to say on the subject," Hudalla said. "However, it remains my belief that determining school year calendars should remain a local board of education decision.

"I believe that instead of asking the better of 180 school systems to change start times, why doesn't the state just change their testing window? But I will remain open to hearing her thoughts."

There is a two-week window of time before which the state has to have the results of AYP. The window is a federal requirement that gives parents fair warning before the start of another school year on whether their student's school is making AYP. Parents of students whose schools do not make AYP a number of consecutive years, may have the option of school choice.

"No Child Left Behind requires that the state give the district and parents two weeks notice of AYP determination," said Matt Cardoza, a spokesman with the Georgia Department of Education. "Because we release AYP so early, we would not have time to include retest results."

Department officials said including CRCT retest results could favor a school or school district in determining whether it makes AYP.

A significant percentage of students who fail the spring CRCT have tended to pass the retest the following summer, according to department spokesman Dana Tofig.

In 2007, roughly 23,000 students statewide did not pass the spring CRCT. Of the 18,000 who retested, 6,750 (38 percent) passed - a large enough number to help determine whether some schools or districts made AYP that year.

Some school districts retest on the CRCT in late June or early July. Henry County Schools began CRCT retesting Tuesday, and retests will continue to be administered through Thursday.

For some school districts, the window between the summer retest and the start of school is not wide enough and would need to be smaller. The current window does not allow enough time for tests to be calculated and used toward schools' AYP status before the next school year starts in August.

School will start, this year, for Henry County Schools on Aug. 4. The Henry County Board of Education has not yet publicize a start date for the 2009-10 school year, the earliest the late-start idea would go into effect.

But there are some other issues that arise when considering the idea, according to Don Rooks, director of legislative services with GSBA. "Many of our school systems have chosen to begin the school year earlier so that they can have intersections."

He said some school districts start the school year earlier, in part, to allow for mid-semester breaks to give schools time to perform mid-year remediation.

Starting school later, for some districts, would affect the mid-year remediation. Conversely, he said, testing earlier on the spring CRCT and summer retest to widen the window could adversely affect districts that start later.

"It's strictly a local control issue," Rooks said. "The Georgia School Boards Association position is the decision is left with local school boards."