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Duncan visits students on eve of big test

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

High school juniors throughout Clayton County will join others statewide for the Georgia High School Graduation Test, and Interim Superintendent. Gloria Duncan has visited many of them encouraging their best effort.

One of her stops was at Jonesboro High.

"There is no reason to believe you won't do well on the test," Duncan told the juniors at Jonesboro High. "This group is going to do something important. You're going to make AYP this year," she added.

The comment from Duncan came during an academic pep talk to about 400 juniors at the school. It was one of many stops she made at high schools last week.

Duncan challenged the students to do as well in academics as they do in the courtroom, or on the basketball court.

Over the next four days, juniors will be tested with proficiency examinations to determine if they are ready for graduation.

At Jonesboro High, Duncan made a point of noting recent accomplishments by Jonesboro students in winning the National Mock Trial Championship, and making it to the Elite 8 in boys' basketball.

"It's time to show what you're made of, Jonesboro," said Duncan. "We see you shining in all of these other areas, so show us what you can do."

The Georgia Department of Education uses the graduation test to determine whether a high school meets the academic standards required to obtain Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) status.

Since the juniors are the only students whose academic achievement are monitored for AYP, the fate of the entire school rests on the shoulders of those students. Last year, the high schools met the AYP requirements for the other two factors used by the state -- test participation and graduation rates.

Last year, the district's overall performance on the math section of the graduation test was one of the reasons why the school system did not make AYP.

The system needed to have 68.6 percent of those taking the test to meet or exceed the state standard to make AYP. The same percentage was required for each of the seven subgroups on that section. Only 63.4 percent of all high school juniors met the mark.

These subgroups failed to meet the math AYP standards: African Americans (60.5 percent), Hispanics (57.7 percent), students with disabilities (41.7 percent) and Economically Disadvantaged students (60.6 percent) .

"Most [high] schools in Clayton County that do not make AYP, do not make it because of math," Duncan told the students.

On the language arts section of the test, 84.7 percent of all students, and students from each subgroup, must meet or exceed the state standard.

The district as a whole met the AYP standard, but Hispanic students (79.9 percent), and students with disabilities (60.1 percent) missed the mark.

Only two high schools, Mundy's Mill and North Clayton, made AYP last year.

While Duncan's visits were designed to encourage juniors to do better on the graduation test, she reminded students of the district's ongoing battle with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), which made the recommendation to revoke the district's accreditation last month. The issue was reviewed by the AdvancED Accreditation Commission on Saturday.

SACS officials are recommending the measure because an investigation of the school system uncovered alleged micromanagement, unethical behavior and misuse of district funds by members of the board of education. The district has to meet nine recommendations for change by Sept. 1 to avoid losing its accreditation.

Duncan asked how many juniors at Jonesboro read the SACS report on the district. Less then one-fourth of the students raised their hands.

Duncan then told the students the only way to empower themselves is to have first-hand knowledge on matters which affect them.

"The best way to get first-hand information is to read it [the SACS report] for yourselves," she added.

Duncan also told the students the district needs to meet all of SACS' mandates for retaining accreditation before the 2008-2009 school year begins on Aug. 7. If the school system is able to complete it's response to SACS by then, it will have at least a month to schedule a "just cause" hearing.

The hearing would result in SACS officials returning to the district, and performing another review to see if all nine mandates have been met.

Jurod James, 16, a junior at Jonesboro, said the accreditation situation is "overwhelming" and has forced him to start paying attention to the actions of the board of education.

"It's something which shouldn't be happening, but we have to deal with it," James said.