Originally created 01/09/98

Georgia schools get low grade



ATLANTA -- After giving Georgia schools a "B-plus" last year, state Superintendent Linda Schrenko graded them an "incomplete" Thursday when she released her third annual report card on education.

The report card of Georgia's 1,800 schools shows improvement in some test scores and a sizable drop in the number of students in remedial education classrooms.

However, 1996-97 marked the second school year in a row that fewer Georgia students passed all sections of the state graduation test required for a diploma.

And the report card showed that 31.6 percent of the students who entered high school as part of the class of 1997 hadn't completed their education.

Last year, Ms. Schrenko raised her overall grade from a "C-minus" to a "B-plus" when she released the report card for the 1995-96 school year.

This year, she said while measurements like the closely watched Scholastic Assessment Test scores are on the rise, there remains room for improvement.

"I don't think we've made it to an "A" in all areas," she said. "I think we are a work in progress."

Barbara Christmas, head of the state's largest teacher's group, the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, agreed with Ms. Schrenko's assessment.

"We have some initiatives in place ... that are going to have an impact on student achievement," Ms. Christmas said. "We deserve high marks for initiatives in early childhood development."

But she said the final grade for those programs are years away because most -- like the state's pre-kindergarten program -- are relatively new.

The Department of Education is one of at least three organizations putting out report cards on Georgia schools.

Ms. Schrenko started her agency's report card after taking office in 1995 in hopes of giving parents a better idea of how their local schools are doing.

While the report doesn't provide a letter grade for each school, it gives parents and educators dozens of statistics on test scores, enrollment, dropout rates, free lunches, scholarships, the type of high school diplomas students are receiving, remedial education figures, staffing ratios, accreditation and financial support.

The Department of Education began sending copies of the report to local districts Wednesday. A condensed version will be available for parents. The full report can be accessed on the Internet at http://www.doe.state.ga.us

Ms. Schrenko told reporters Thursday the decline in the percentage of students passing all mandatory sections of the graduation test -- from 82 percent in 1994-95 to 76 percent in 1995-96 to 67 percent in 1996-97 -- was due largely to tougher scoring.

"We have raised the bar," she said.

It also stems from the state adding a mandatory social studies test in 1995-96 and a mandatory science test last year.

The percentage of students passing the original three sections of the test -- math, English and writing -- increased between 1994-95 and 1996-97. The report also showed:

The dropout rate declined slightly, but so did the school completion rate.

The number of students in remedial education dropped from 132,000 in 1995-96 to 122,700 last year, but the number in slowlearner special instructional assistance classes increased from 80,000 to 88,800. The state Board of Education has already taken steps to reduce the number of students in those programs.

The number of students in vocational and non-vocational labs declined substantially. As in the case of special instructional assistance and remedial, auditors said schools were padding lab rolls to get extra state money.

More students received college prep diplomas or both college prep and vocational diplomas. Fewer received general and vocational high school diplomas.

Nearly 58 percent of graduates were eligible for HOPE scholarships because they maintained "B" averages, up from 56 percent in 1995-96.

37.8 percent of education funding in Georgia came from local taxes, up from 36.7 percent last year. However, the amount of school revenue raised also increased from $8 billion to $8.4 billion.

The average pay for administrators was $58,368 a year; support personnel, $42,705; and teachers, $35,678.

The teacher-to-administrator ratio in Georgia schools was 13-1, but student-teacher ratio 16-1.

The number of students held back a grade increased from 49,822 to 50,747.

The number eligible for free or reduced lunches inched up from 568,693 to 573,168, remaining at about 43.4 percent of the student body.



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