May 8, 2013

‘A lot of work to do’

School officials react to new accountability system

By Christopher Smith

— Several local schools are lagging behind the rest of the state, according to the new College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI), including Coahulla Creek High School, whose principal announced his resignation on Monday, the day before the first year’s numbers were made public.

The CCRPI evaluates schools on a 100-point scale as part of an accountability system that state educators used for the first time in 2012. Coahulla Creek’s score was 53.6; the high school average in the state was 72.6. School system officials said Phillip Brown’s resignation, effective at the end of the school year, was planned for some time and not related to the release of the scores.

Whitfield superintendent: ‘very disappointing’

The state average for elementary schools was 83.4, while the middle school average was 81.4 and the high school average was 72.6. Whitfield County Schools averages were 72.3 for elementary schools, 75.8 for middle schools and 67.1 for high schools. “Very disappointing” numbers, Superintendent Judy Gilreath said.

“We knew we had a lot of work to do before the scores were released,” she said. “Any way you cut it, we know we have a lot of work to do still.”

Gilreath said school administrators were “already laying groundwork” to improve test scores shortly after she replaced Danny Hayes as superintendent on March 15. That included shifting staff to focus more on core content like math and reading, not renewing a contract with the Kentucky-based Schlechty Center — an educational think tank focused on providing teachers with different classroom techniques — and emphasizing math in elementary schools.

“There will be a system-wide push on core content,” Gilreath said. “We’re going to focus on professional development and build on content. You never like to not score well, even though we are not in a competition by any means. I just want our kids to do well.”

To do well, the content that teachers provide to students must be designed around CCRPI benchmarks, Gilreath said.

“I think sometimes we design engaging work for kids, but the work is not in the right areas,” she said. “If you design good and engaging work — then go look at objectives and standards after — you’re putting the cart before the horse. Maybe sometimes we design good content, but it’s not in the right area. We’re going to concentrate on the right areas.”

Changes in addition to Brown’s resignation could come to Coahulla Creek, Gilreath said, although those changes could depend upon the specific details of the CCRPI. The $43 million school opened in 2011 and was criticized by some locals for its cost.

Brown said he’s convinced the high school’s low score is “an anomaly” and doesn’t accurately reflect the school’s aim to be relative in a digital age. Gilreath said Brown’s resignation is unrelated to the CCRPI score.

“This is just first-year data,” Brown said. “This is a year of data and not a data trend. Two different things. Look, I know everything I say will sound like an excuse. I know that. But the test scores will go up. When you look at this school three or four years from now you’ll see different data and improvement. We are establishing a new high school. I don’t want to lessen the work our teachers are doing here, work that speaks for itself.”

The next CCRPI report for current year data is expected to be released in the fall.

Brown said one thing that could help Coahulla Creek’s next score is the recent addition of Advanced Placement classes and a growing student body.

Whether the data is accurate, Coahulla Creek is going to get an “academic” push, Gilreath said. What that entails is unclear until school officials have time to dig into the details of the CCRPI, several school officials said.

“Well, of course it’s a new facility and it has had some growing pains,” Gilreath said. “It always takes awhile to get things established, but we’re looking at Coahulla Creek to make it more focused on (CCRPI) goals. I’m very disappointed with the score it got.”

Morris more focused on students than data

Morris Innovative High School in Dalton received a score of 34.6.

Many Dalton school officials have defended Morris as a creative school for students who can benefit from nontraditional teaching. Principal Jennifer Phinney said she is skeptical of the first year of CCRPI data because “it’s data from a school that doesn’t even exist anymore.”

“I’ll be honest, we’re puzzled over our graduation score (Morris got an achievement score of 20.1 out of a possible 70),” she said. “I need some clarification from the state on why we got the score we did. All of this is new.”

The low numbers might also stem from the school being in flux, Phinney added. Morris has undergone several changes to its educational structure since it opened in 2009 to explore ways to offer alternative teaching. Dalton High School, the city’s more traditional school, garnered a score of 82.4.

“We only had 15 students graduate in 2011 and they graduated under Dalton High,” Phinney said. “We just thought the number was low enough that it wouldn’t be fun to have them graduate at Morris so they went over there. But then we had 24 graduates officially from Morris in 2012. We’ll have 72 students graduate this year.

“That’s growth. These students used to be in front of computers, now they’re more involved in things. We’re adding career pathways to things like entrepreneurism. This school is changing constantly. This is only our fourth year of existence.”

Phinney said she sees value in the data as a “baseline year” and expects the score to improve. Even then, she said her first priority is students — not data.

“Here’s just an example. A student enrolled today (Tuesday) who is a 17-year-old from El Salvador,” she said. “He’s probably not going to graduate from high school on time and that could hurt the score of the school, but I want him in my school. I’ll just have to take that hit.”

Under previous state standards, schools performing poorly were subject to corrective action ranging from state-mandated staff changes to forced closings. Asked what could happen to Morris if its scores don’t improve, Phinney said she didn’t know.

“We’d have to have more than a 2-year sample before they (state officials) would do anything,” she said. “The state hasn’t been clear with us what happens. I don’t think the state has decided what to do with schools who are scoring well below the state average or not showing improvement ... Obviously we know we have improvements to make, but by the next go-around our score will be higher.

“I don’t have a problem with accountability. It’s just that the results are just complicated. I really do believe CCRPI will be a better indicator of what’s going on in schools right now. It’s not an accurate reflection of what’s going on here. I feel like we’ve opened a new school every year since we started Morris. Our mission is to be innovative and we will continue to do that, but perhaps from a more stable platform.”

Murray superintendent ‘extremely pleased’

The CCRPI scores indicate hard work has paid off for Murray County Schools, said Superintendent Vickie Reed.

Murray schools outperformed other area school systems at the elementary level (85 compared to Dalton’s 80.6 and Whitfield’s 72.3) and the middle school level (81.8 compared to Dalton’s 77.9 and Whitfield’s 75.8). Murray was second for high schools with 70.5 compared to Dalton’s 74.3 and Whitfield’s 67.1.

Those numbers make Reed “very happy and extremely pleased.”

Reed was particularly impressed by Woodlawn Elementary School, one of two schools in the area to achieve a score above 90. Woodlawn received a 93.3, while Brookwood Elementary School in Dalton got a 91.8.

“We still have work to do, of course, but I’m happy with these scores,” Reed said. “I want to improve some schools, especially at Mountain Creek Academy.”

Mountain Creek Academy — an alternative middle and high school — received two scores. The academy’s middle school had a score of 46.4, while its high school received the lowest area score of 18.7.

“That’s a difficult school because it is a revolving door,” Reed said. “Kids don’t always stay. Sometimes they are there for three months, sometimes six months. But it’s an area we will have to address as an alternative school. We can’t accept that number.”

“Right now we’ve got to dig into the details to see where we need to work specifically,” Reed said. “Overall, I’m very proud of our schools. I’m proud of them all. All our staff are working extremely hard.”

What is the College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI)?

The CCRPI is the accountability system for Georgia schools that replaced the federal No Child Left Behind standards in 2012. The system gauges a school’s success on a 100-point scale in three categories:

• Achievement: content mastery, how ready students are for the next level of education or the workforce, how many students graduate or will graduate.

• Progress: student growth from year to year.

• Achievement gap: how well schools teach minorities, students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students and/or English-learning students.

Bonus points can be awarded if a student fitting into the achievement gap category meets or exceeds state performance benchmarks.


Scores for local schools

For the breakdown of each score, visit

State average

Elementary — 83.4

Middle school — 81.4

High school — 72.6

Dalton Public Schools

Elementary average — 80.6

Middle school average — 77.9

High school average — 74.3

Blue Ridge School — 72.2

Brookwood Elementary School — 91.8

City Park School — 80.4

Dalton High School — 82.4

Dalton Middle School — 77.9

Morris Innovative High School — 34.6

Park Creek Elementary School — 85.1

Roan Elementary School — 75.8

Westwood Elementary School — 86.4

Whitfield County Schools

Elementary average — 72.3

Middle school average — 75.8

High school average — 67.1

Antioch Elementary School — 71.9

Beaverdale Elementary School — 81

Cedar Ridge Elementary School — 60.4

Coahulla Creek High School — 53.6

Cohutta Elementary School — 64.3

Dawnville Elementary School — 75.1

Dug Gap Elementary School — 74.8

Eastbrook Middle School —76.4

Eastside Elementary School — 64

New Hope Elementary School — 81.4

New Hope Middle School — 82.3

North Whitfield Middle School — 76.5

Northwest Georgia College and Career Academy — 66.7

Northwest Whitfield High School — 76.6

Phoenix High School — 41.2

Pleasant Grove Elementary School — 74.9

Southeast Whitfield High School — 78.3

Tunnel Hill Elementary School — 74.5

Valley Point Elementary School — 65

Valley Point Middle School — 75.4

Varnell Elementary School — 82.8

Westside Elementary School — 82.6

Westside Middle School — 80.5

Murray County Schools

Elementary average — 85

Middle school average — 81.8

High school average — 70.5

Bagley Middle School — 89.1

Chatsworth Elementary School — 83.7

Coker Elementary School — 83.4

Eton Elementary School — 88.6

Gladden Middle School — 84.1

Mountain Creek Academy — 46.4 for middle school, 18.7 for high school

Murray County High School — 77.6

North Murray High School — 71.4

Northwest Elementary School — 85.5

Spring Place Elementary — 75.9

Woodlawn Elementary School — 93.3