ATLANTA -- State Superintendent of Schools Linda Schrenko on Monday accused House Floor Leader Charlie Smith, D-St. Marys, of carrying on a "negative" campaign against Georgia's public schools.
At a press conference to unveil the Department of Education's annual "report card" to rate the state's public schools academically, she denounced "politicians and media across the state" who continue to emphasize the schools' failings.
Asked if she were speaking of Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes, the Republican superintendent responded, "Well, I don't think Roy holds the record for that."
Asked who does, Mrs. Schrenko said, "Rep. Smith, who rather frequently blasts the students and state of Georgia."
She later confirmed that she was referring to Mr. Barnes' House floor leader.
Mrs. Schrenko speculated that the negative campaign may be aimed at getting the Democratically controlled General Assembly to pass Mr. Barnes education-reform bill. If that were the case, she added, she did not understand why.
"The governor has the power to pass the bill," Mrs. Schrenko said. "He has majorities in both houses. Why make students and teachers into the fall guy?"
Her overall grade for the condition of the state's public schools was a B, a considerable improvement from the "I" for incomplete she awarded them in each of the past two years.
Mrs. Schrenko cited improvements in many aspects of public schools during the past several years:
Comprehensive school improvement planning programs adopted by schools increased from 23 schools in 1992 to 165 last year.
Average Scholastic Assessment Test scores since 1994 rose from 948 to 969 out of a possible 1,600.
From 1994 to 1999, state students gained 21 points on SATs, trailing the gains of only Maine, which had a 23-point increase, and North Carolina, with a 22-point increase.
Third- and fifth-graders in Georgia beat the national averages in testing for reading comprehension and proficiency in mathematics.
Eighth-graders surpassed the national average in math skills but fell short in reading.
The high school dropout rate fell from 8.6 percent to 6.5 percent.
In state high school graduation tests, however, results have declined in social studies since 1996, according to the report. And science scores have dropped since 1997. Scores in English/language arts and math have improved since 1994.
Richmond County received a mixed bag of results in the report.
The dropout rate for sixth through 12th-graders decreased by 195 pupils, from 879 last year to 684 this year. Last year, 834 students in grades nine through 12 were reported as drop outs. This year, there were 666.
The number of pupils enrolled in special education increased from 2,275 last year to 2,689 this year.
The number of 11th-graders passing the Georgia High School Graduation Tests on the first try has fluctuated by one point during the past three years. This year the percentage dropped by one point to 58.
Richmond County Superintendent Charles Larke said Monday that he was in court all day and did not have a chance to analyze the report card but said the decreased dropout rate is good news.
He expects to analyze the report later this week. Schools closed early Monday and are closed today as well.
Columbia County schools remained steady. The school system's overall dropout rate for grades six through 12 remained the same at 3.1 percent, but the dropout rate in grades nine through 12 dropped slightly from 4.6 percent to 3.7 percent.
Columbia County Schools Superintendent Tommy Price said Monday afternoon that he had not seen a copy of the school system's report card, but that most of the information -- especially test scores -- has been reported previously.
"We do look at it to see where there may be concerns for us," he said.
Also in Columbia County, the percentage of graduates eligible for the HOPE scholarship in 1999 improved over 1998 graduate figures. The number of graduates eligible for the lottery-funded scholarship climbed from 62.3 percent in 1998 to 66.5 percent in 1999. The number of pupils taking Advanced Placement tests also increased in the past school year from 304 to 407.
But Columbia County's report card showed the school system's scores on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills fluctuated slightly. And 11th-graders passing the Georgia High School Graduation Test on the first try also remained consistent, with students passing the five sections of the test ranging between 88 and 99 percent.
Reach Tony Heffernan at (404) 589-8424 or email@example.com.