By Christopher Smith
Last year, Whitfield County Schools Superintendent Judy Gilreath was “very disappointed” with a report that said county high schools were below the state average in how well students were learning.
This year, things look a “little bit better,” she said.
That’s according to a state Department of Education accountability system called the College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI). The system rates the success of schools on a scale of 0 to 100 by crunching data including test scores, graduation rates and how well different groups of students — including the disabled and impoverished — are preparing for college.
CCRPI data have only been released twice, reflecting information from school years 2012 and 2013, which begin in July. Information from this school year won’t likely be released until 2015, school officials said. The 2012 CCRPI scores were recalculated under new standards released this year, including CRCT (Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests) and end of year test scores.
The state average for high schools increased from 71.8 in 2012 to 72.8 in 2013, while the average for Whitfield high schools went from 65.3 to 72.5. The state elementary school average increased from 74.5 to 77.8, while the middle school average went from 73.8 to 74.6.
The biggest increase in Whitfield occurred at Coahulla Creek High School, which opened in 2010 and jumped from 48.7 to 74.
“The thing is that when you open a new school, it’s always difficult to score well,” Gilreath said of the increase. “We have good teachers out there that have stayed. I think, this year, they just knew better what the state was looking for. It was new to everybody the first year. We weren’t always sure what they were looking for.”
Principal Stanley Stewart said he has focused on Common Core, across-the-board standards all states must meet under federal rules. Those standards are tested periodically during the school year, a major factor in the CCRPI score.
Northwest Whitfield High School also showed an increase, going from 72 to 80.
“That score is very good,” Audrey Williams, who oversees assessment for Whitfield schools, said. What made Northwest do so well is just “hard work” from students and teachers, Williams added.
“I can only see them going up further and further,” she said.
Whitfield elementary schools averaged 74.2 (up from 65.2), while middle schools averaged 70 (up from 69.7).
Gilreath said the school system is going to add academic coaches who will help teachers learn how to better teach math and reading, particularly to Hispanic students learning English. While some elementary schools have had coaches for five years, Gilreath said every elementary school will have at least one next year.
“We’re focusing on the elementary schools because what I’ve found, with students, is that if they get to middle school and they don’t know how to read,” she said, “they have found ways to mask it or cope. We’ve got to get them while they’re young.”
Dalton, Morris also show improvement
Dalton Public Schools’ elementary school average was 74.4 (up from 73.8), while the middle school average was 72.2 (up from 68.5). Dalton High School received a score of 79.8 (up from 79.5), while Morris Innovative High School received a 40.3 (up from 34.2).
Laura Orr, who oversees assessment for Dalton schools, said despite Morris’ low score, the school is heading in the right direction.
Local educators have defended the school, the focus of scrutiny last year for its low CCRPI, because they say it offers an option for teenagers looking for more individualized learning. Orr said those students often come from unstable families, are struggling with pregnancy or raising a child, or are juggling demanding jobs. That’s something that isn’t going to be “reflected on paper,” she said.
Morris started out offering online classes and has moved into focusing on getting students on-the-job experience, often changing curriculum, focus and leadership.
“I just think that our philosophy is that, with Morris and all our schools, you have to look at all pieces of information,” Orr said. “It can’t just be graduation rates or a single testing day. We have to look at a lot of other things.”
One example Orr used was Morris students who don’t graduate on time. The CCRPI requires students to get their high school diploma in four years for the school to get good marks. Orr said those students who take longer to graduate shouldn’t be discounted because they don’t meet a state standard.
“This is a unique population of kids who are not as typical as students in a comprehensive high school like Dalton High,” she said. “We are dealing with human beings. They don’t always follow the typical paths.”
Murray County ‘outperforming’ region, state
Murray County Schools is “outperforming” the area and state for the second time, Superintendent Vickie Reed said. Murray elementary schools averaged 79.2 (up from 74.6), while middle schools had an average of 77.4 (up from 71.3). North Murray High School received a score of 78.2 (up from 72.9), while Murray County High School received a 83.2 (up from 78.5).
Reed said such success is a result of focusing on Common Core.
“With everyday instruction, we have been — you know, with the roll out with the Common Core last year, there has been a lot of training at the school level,” she said. “Training on the standards. We tell our teachers that we are focused on teaching those standards.”
Reed said she isn’t focused on the controversy of Common Core. Some parents and teachers believe it gives the federal government too much influence on curriculum and that it’s been a headache to implement.
“I can’t speak for other systems. I can only speak for Murray,” she said. “And we expect our teachers to teach the standards. And I just feel we’ve had lots of support from the state, you know, helping us train teachers on how to teach those standards correctly.”
Reed said the CCRPI reported that students, mostly Hispanic, who are learning English as a second language are struggling on English tests.
“We need to focus on that,” she said. “They are doing middle of the road on it, at all grade levels. So we’re looking at what we can do to help that group of students.”
For a full listing of CCRPI scores, visit www.gadoe.org/ccrpi/Pages/default.aspx.