Originally created 03/10/99

Principal calls report 'false'



Hephzibah Elementary is the only area school listed among 94 in the state that have scored poorly over the last three years on basic performance criteria.

Surprising?

School officials think so.

"It's worse than confusing, it's plain flat out false," Dr. Lynn Duncan, principal of Hephzibah Elementary said of the report. "If our name is on the list, others in our area should be. We are usually above average for the county in everything."

A report released Tuesday by the Council for School Performances says nearly 100 of the state's 1,800 public schools would be classified as consistently performing below the basic level and could be eligible for special state help under accountability legislation currently being debated.

The Council for School Performance bases its criteria for elementary schools on high poverty levels, absenteeism and reading and math scores of third- and fifth- graders -- from the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.

Council officials say schools would be put on the list if less than 50 percent of the students scored above the national median, for three years, in math and reading.

The poverty level is based on 80 percent of children receiving free or reduced lunch, and absenteeism is based on the school scoring above the state median on the percent of students who miss 10 or more days per year.

The Council gets some of its information from the state and develops its own concerning test scores and absenteeism, officials said.

But Hephzibah officials say something is amiss.

Hephzibah Elementary School is ranked 114 among 163 state Elementary schools in East Georgia. Richmond County's Ursula Collins Elementary is ranked 163. The rankings are based on information from the Georgia Public Policy Foundations and includes information about test scores and poverty levels.

"There is no way we met all five criteria in any one year," Dr. Duncan said. "If we did, there would be others from Richmond

County."

Dr. Duncan said her school plans to fight for its reputation.

According to the report, 30.6 percent of Hephzibah Elementary students were absent from school 10 or more days during the 1997-98 school year, compared to the state median of 24.9.

For 1996-97, 25.4 percent of Hephzibah students were absent, compared to the state's 24.9 and during 1995-96, 32.1 percent of Hephzibah students were absent, compared to the state's 27.7.

The Council says only 43.8 percent of Hephzibah's third-graders scored above the national median in reading in 1997-98, with 32.5 percent doing the same in math.

Among fifth-graders, 46.3 percent scored above the median in reading, with 37.3 percent doing the same in math.

Margaret Brackett, research associate for the Council for School Performance, said the group stands by its data.

"We verified the numbers, double and triple-checked," Ms. Brackett said. "There could be other schools in the area who could have brought their scores up one year and wouldn't have been included on the list.

"We've spoken to several school systems who didn't understand and didn't know why others were not on the list," Ms. Brackett said. "This is a problem with any accountability test of basic goals. It's just the way the Legislature framed it."

Ms. Brackett said the report is not confusing.

"This is just the way it was written in the Legislature," she said. "It will be important for policy-makers to have communication with the schools on what the criteria are."

"What we're trying to do in releasing the report is let schools and the state know what schools could be affected if the bill is passed," Ms. Brackett said. "We really don't want to point a finger at any school. We want to see which schools should be targeted for help."

Still, Dr. Duncan said the report, which her school plans to fight, puts doubt in citizens' heads about the achievements of the school.

"They just must not have all the information," Dr. Duncan said. "The schools that we feed -- Hephzibah Middle and Hephzibah High -- are never at the bottom. Something is bad wrong there."

A state bill sponsored by House Education Chairwoman Jeanette Jamieson, D-Toccoa, and House University System Chairman DuBose Porter, D-Dublin, 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 some solutions.

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

Among schools listed with low performance on issues including dropouts, test scores and chronic absenteeism in 1996, 1997, and 1998:

Hephzibah Elementary School, Richmond County

Bryan County Elementary School, Bryan County

Cleveland Road Elementary School, Clarke County

Fowler Drive Elementary School, Clarke County

Elbert County Middle School, Elbert County

Burroughs-Molette Elementary School, Glynn County

Ware County Middle School, Ware County

Clinch County High School, (eighth grade only) Clinch County

Source: Georgia Council for School Performance

Faith Johnson can be reached at 706-823-3765 or faithj@augustachronicle.com.