Photo by Heather Middleton
Clayton County Public Schools was part of the trend of fewer schools in Georgia making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) this year, according to the State Department of Education's preliminary results.
The final report is expected to be released sometime in the fall, and will include summer re-test scores, summer graduations and appeals.
The DOE released the preliminary data late last week, and the Clayton County School System failed to make the AYP mark overall –– once again –– and more of the system's individual schools failed to meet the standard this year, than last.
The decline across the state, including in Clayton County, was not unexpected, however, as state and local officials point to the academic bar being raised in the areas used to measure performance as a major reason for the slippage.
Officials said this year's results may be due to the academic bar being raised in tested areas, and because of an increase in the minimum high school graduation rate. The graduation rate high schools must meet this year increased to 85 percent, from 80 percent last year. The rate will continue to increase on a yearly basis until it reaches 100 percent.
This year, the initial report shows that the graduation rate for all Georgia high schools was at 79.5 percent, a slight decrease from last year's rate of 79.9 percent.
"I believe this decrease in the graduation rate highlights the need for more relevance in a 21st Century high school," said State School Superintendent John Barge. "As long as students do not see the connection between schools and the possibilities after high school," he said, "some will continue to drop out."
The AYP report shows that 63 percent of the state's schools made AYP this year, which is down from 71 percent last year. Additionally, 17.5 percent of schools in Georgia fell into the "Needs Improvement" (NI) category. Last year, 15.4 percent of schools were in that status.
"We have many great schools in the state, providing a high-quality education to all students," said Superintendent Barge. "We knew we were up against the proverbial wall because [the] bar increases each year, and it appears that we have begun to hit it."
In the Clayton County School System, only 34 schools make AYP, while 28 failed to achieve that mark. Last year, 50 schools made AYP, and only 11 failed to gain that status.
This year, 11 out of 38 elementary schools did not make AYP; a little over half the middle schools failed to make AYP; and just two of 12 high schools achieved AYP status –– Jonesboro High School and Charles Drew High School.
Pam Adamson, who is chairperson of the Clayton County Board of Education, agreed with State Superintendent Barge. She said it is difficult for students to make gains, when the bar is continually increased on all tests.
When it comes to the graduation rate, it is difficult for a school system to keep up, when it has a highly mobile population, she said. "These are just real challenges," she said, "and we could be doing a lot better than what we are reporting. We just don't have the data to back us up."
Clayton County School Superintend Edmond Heatley also agreed that the increase in the graduation-rate requirement was a factor in the school system not gaining AYP status. However, Heatley said that, even with that as a factor, school staff and administrators still have a responsibility to make sure students are improving academically.
"We still, as a system, have to do a better job of teaching our students," said Heatley, "and students have to do a better job of learning the material that's presented."
He added that, while looking at all the tests that play a role in obtaining AYP status, such as the CRCTs, the Georgia Graduation Test, and EOCTs, the school system still has to look at what's in the best interest of students, and what more can be done, as a community, to help with student achievement, and in preparation for these tests.
"It's not a single issue we have to deal with, it is multi-tasked ... " said Heatley. "But, we are dealing with it all. I don't care what tests the [students] take. I care about them passing the tests, and having the skills to take the tests and pass at a very high level."
According to school officials, a school's AYP status is important because it measures how well a school is performing and meeting the mandates of the federal government's No Child Left Behind Act. As a part of that law, each year –– in Georgia –– schools must meet certain standards based on Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, the Georgia High School Graduation Test, and other indicators, such as attendance and high school-graduation rates.