Georgia’s new system for grading schools is far more complex than the one it replaces. Educators see it as an improvement in gauging performance at schools with high poverty rates.
But an analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that the new system says as much about poverty as it does about academic performance. Poor schools got significantly lower grades than their more affluent counterparts, the newspaper found. The median grade of poor elementary schools was 15 points lower than the median grade of more affluent elementary schools. The median grade of poor middle and high schools was 14 points lower than the median grade of more affluent middle and high schools.
The link between poverty and poor performance in school has long been noted in criticism of academic indicators like graduation rates and the SAT exam. And some doubt whether any system can fairly measure the performance of schools with vastly different student profiles.
Many educators believe such systems can’t be more than mere mirrors of poverty. Show me a school with high concentrations of poverty, they say, and I’ll show you one that’s likely to be deemed a low-performing school.
“I am not convinced that it is possible to use a singular metric to compare schools that have enormously different student populations,” said Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield, who has pushed for big changes in Georgia’s grading system to give more weight to academic growth. “We are well into our second decade of believing we can rank, compare, punish and reward schools into improvement. While the jury is still out on our latest efforts, I see no evidence that any nation on the planet has taken this approach and succeeded.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s coverage of Georgia’s school report card has included articles on the generally mediocre score schools and districts received, the challenges in trying to lift those ratings, and how some schools succeeded in doing just that. Read those articles, check our database of all the grades in the state or search our interactive map and chart to find how schools in your neighborhood scored on the state’s new performance index, on MyAJC.com.
How we did it
To complete this analysis and provide information on elementary, middle and high schools the AJC merged the CCRPI scores with free-and-reduced-price lunch data for the corresponding school year. Some Georgia schools lump several grade-level clusters together; for example they might be grades 6-12 instead of the traditional 6-8 or 9-12 grade structure. In those instances, the newspaper applied the school’s overall free-or-reduced-price lunch percentage to each grade cluster.