The results released on Wednesday added summer retake scores and appeals to the preliminary results announced in July. With the new data, Richmond County saw seven additional schools make AYP that had originally missed the mark, but the improvements made by sister districts surpassed Augusta’s.
Richmond County school district leaders tend not to compare their test results with suburban or rural systems, but with other urban districts in Georgia. Even in that comparison group of 12 districts, though, Richmond County was last.
Richmond County had 25 out of 55 schools, or 45.5 percent, make AYP last year, while 10 of its 11 peer districts had more than 50 percent of their schools make the benchmark.
Muscogee County, which also has 55 schools and includes Columbus, had 28 make it, or 50.9 percent. Atlanta Public Schools, closely scrutinized this year after being mired in a test-cheating scandal, still had 55 percent of its 100 schools make AYP. Clarke County, the home of Athens, had 16 of its 20 schools make it, or 80 percent. Savannah-Chatham County saw 36 of its 49 schools, or 73.5 percent, make the grade.
Some Richmond County school district leaders say having fewer than half of the schools make AYP proves poor student achievement, while others say AYP gives an incomplete picture of progress.
“The whole notion of AYP is a fallacy because it’s meant to label school districts as failures when, in actuality, you may not be where you want to be, but you’re still consistently making gains,” said school board Vice President Venus Cain. “The way it’s done is unfair.”
The state Department of Education uses scores on such standardized exams as the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests and Georgia High School Graduation Test to help determine AYP. On those tests, students are broken down into subcategories, including race, disabilities and socioeconomic status.
If a large enough group in any subcategory fails to meet the standards set by the state, the entire school is deemed not to have made AYP. Those standards, passing rates on the tests, are set to rise to 100 percent by 2013-14 unless the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which has been up for reauthorization in Congress since 2007, is changed.
Cain pointed to schools such as Lucy C. Laney High School, which did not make AYP for the seventh year but increased the percentage of students who met or exceeded graduation test math scores from 56 percent in 2009-10 to 70.3 percent in 2010-11.
Cross Creek High School was labeled as a school that did not meet AYP only because it missed the required graduation rate of 85 percent by 2.4 percentage points.
School board President Alex Howard said even small misses are not acceptable.
“It’s embarrassing to me,” Howard said. “Everybody needs to take responsibility for this. The board needs to do a better job of monitoring our schools.”
Recently, the school board asked to see a monthly report of the 15-day assessments that teachers give students. The data help administrators make changes to instruction during the year, rather than just for damage control after AYP results come out.
Carol Rountree, the district’s executive director for student services, said higher bars set for students last year could have contributed to fewer schools making AYP.
“Our goal is always student achievement, but making AYP is kind of a moving target,” she said. “It becomes more and more difficult.”
Since 2003, the first year AYP standards were set under the No Child Left Behind Act, educators have struggled with the measure.
State Superintendent John Barge applied for a waiver to dismiss Georgia schools from the AYP measure. Peer review of the requests is scheduled for December.