State changes system of grading schools and districts

By Wayne Washington – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Less than a year after Georgia implemented a new system for grading its schools and districts, the state is adjusting that formula on the eve of releasing this year’s scores.

The College and Career Ready Performance Index was announced earlier this year to replace measures under the much-criticized federal No Child Left Behind Act that classified schools as either meeting, exceeding or failing to meet academic standards.

The index was designed to empower parents with an easy-to-understand snapshot of how schools in their neighborhood are performing. The index can influence whether parents elect to keep their kids in a particular school, and even whether some types of schools remain open.

But state leaders say the index needs tweaking to give more weight to students’ academic progress and less weight to standardized and end-of-course tests. The new formula also gives more weight to four-year graduation rates and lets charter schools know that they need to best the performance of traditional schools in their area with similar students.

Matt Cardoza, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, said the changes — approved Wednesday — will make the index a better, fairer assessment.

The index changes come just two weeks before the 2012-2013 scores are to be released. But while the changes will be reflected in those scores, Cardoza said the adjustments are not meant to boost them.

Critics of the index argued that too little emphasis was being placed on students’ academic progress. They complained this was a disadvantage for schools with a large percentage of poor students, who, for a variety of reasons, tend not to perform as well as their more affluent peers.

Will Schofield, superintendent in Hall County in northeast Georgia, said the changes are “a move in the right direction.”

But he said there’s still too little emphasis on academic progress.

“For any accountability measure to be meaningful, it must focus on annual individual student growth,” Schofield said. “Punishing and rewarding schools based upon average scores of tremendously different groups of children defies all that we know about statistics. As a parent, I want to have some sort of idea what the value-add of the school experience has been.”

Martha Reichrath, deputy superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment, said she and her colleagues heard from many educators who share Schofield’s opinion. Still, she said schools and districts need to be accountable for making sure students can perform at high academic levels.

“We still want them to work with their students to get them up there,” Reichrath said.

College and Career Ready Performance Index scores for 2011-2012 were released earlier this year. Reichrath said then that the index would be tweaked, even though doing so would make year-to-year comparisons less valid.

A big change to the index is this: It will become the main factor in determining whether a charter school remains open.

Anything that even poses the possibility of threatening charter schools could become a political target, as charters are considered by conservatives in the Legislature to be critical alternatives to struggling traditional public schools.

Charter schools, which are public schools granted organizational and instructional flexibility in exchange for a promise to meet specific academic goals, typically operate with three- to five-year charters granted by a local school board or the state.

In the past, a variety of academic factors were used to determine whether a school’s charter would be renewed.

Now, a charter school will have to have a College and Career Ready Performance Index score that exceeds the state average and the average for the district in which the charter school is located.

Also, the charter school would have to have an index score higher than schools — both charters and traditional public schools — with a similar academic and demographic profile.

The charter school would have to outperform those schools in each of its first four years of operation.

“We don’t need charter schools just to have schools,” said Lou Erste, associate superintendent for policy and charter schools. “You’ve got to be better than what was there, or it’s a waste of time and money.”

All charter schools approved from now on will have to meet the new index standards to have their charters renewed. Existing charter schools will go under the new rules starting in the 2014-2015 academic year.

Tony Roberts, president and chief executive officer of the Georgia Charter Schools Association, said the new standards for charter renewal are an improvement.

“The former ways of measuring a charter was so nebulous it was hard to tell whether the charter school was better than where the kids came from,” he said.

For charter schools and traditional public schools, academic progress will now account for 25 percent of a school or district’s index score. Previously, academic progress accounted for 15 percent of the score.

Academic achievement as determined by standardized and end-of-test scores will account for 60 percent of the index score. That’s down from 70 percent.

Closing gaps in performance between various groups of students will continue to account for 15 percent of the index score.

Four-year and five-year graduation rates will no longer be given equal weight in the index formula. Now, a district’s four-year graduation rate will account for two-thirds of the points awarded in the score, with the five-year rate accounting for the remaining one-third.

State Board of Education members wanted to push schools and districts to focus more on graduating students in four years and not five.

“It’s really important, and that needs to be the gold standard,” board member Mike Royal said.


ACADEMIC INDEX SHAKE-UP

The Georgia Department of Education has changed how it will grade schools and districts on its College and Career Ready Performance Index, a scholastic measurement system now in its second year. Those changes include:

  • Increasing the importance of academic progress. Schools and districts receive a CCRPI score of zero to 110 based on a variety of factors, including academic progress, academic achievement (as indicated by standardized and end-of-course test scores), graduation rates and closing the gap in performance between various groups of students. Academic progress will now account for 25 percent of a school or district’s CCRPI score. Formerly, it accounted for 15 percent. Academic achievement will now count for 60 percent of the score; it used to count for 70 percent.
  • Increasing the weight given to a school and district’s four-year graduation rate. Four- and five-year graduation rates were given equal weight before. Now, the four-year rate will account for two-thirds of the points awarded for a school or district’s graduation rate, with the five-year rate accounting for one-third of those points.
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