Originally created 03/10/99

Legislation would send help to failing schools



ATLANTA -- More than 90 Georgia public schools would be classified as consistently performing below the basic level and be eligible for special state help under accountability legislation that might become a model for Gov. Roy Barnes' education task force later this year.

The schools -- including Richmond County's Hephzibah Elementary -- are scattered throughout the state, although most are in the Atlanta area, according to a Council for School Performance report released Tuesday.

A poll by Georgia State University's Applied Research Center, also released Tuesday, shows that more than 80 percent of Georgians favor sending support teams to help failing schools and 83 percent think high school students should have to pass end-of-class exams to get credit for a course.

Both measures are called for in legislation sponsored by state House Education Chairwoman Jeanette Jamieson, D-Toccoa, and House University System Chairman DuBose Porter, D-Dublin.

"It is clear that the public supports accountability, but they are sending a message to try some positive measures first," said Tom Upchurch, president of the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, which sponsored the poll.

The bill sponsored by Mr. Porter and Ms. Jamieson sets performance goals for schools and makes students pass end-of-course exams to get credit for some classes.

Under the bill, the Georgia Board of Education would adopt end-of-course assessments for students completing Algebra 1, American and Georgia government, American history, American literature, Biology 1, Chemistry 1, geometry, and writing and composition. The board also would adopt a passing score.

As of Sept. 1, 2000, students couldn't receive credit unless they passed the exam.

The board also would set student-performance goals for schools using test scores and absenteeism rates. Those goals would get tougher gradually over three years.

If schools fail to reach each of their basic goals for three consecutive years, the state would send in a progress support team that would identify problems and try to come up with solutions.

The legislation won't pass during the 1999 General Assembly session but could become a model for Mr. Barnes and the blue ribbon panel on education he plans to lead over the summer.

The council used criteria similar to what is in the Porter-Jamieson bill to determine that 94 schools would fall below the basic level of performance during three years.

More than 50 of those were in the Atlanta, Cobb County, Clayton County and DeKalb County school systems.

The list is not meant to embarrass school officials, Mr. Porter said.

"By releasing the list of schools, we hope the problem will be dealt with in a positive way, not as punishment," he added.

James Salzer is based in Atlanta and can be reached at (404) 589-8424 or mnews@mindspring.com.