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Web posted Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Officials hopeful schools will still meet progress standards

By Donnie Fetter
News Editor, Twitter @DonnieFetter

Three Columbia County schools -- Evans High, Grovetown Middle and Harlem Middle -- failed to make "adequate yearly progress" last school year.

But another school -- Harlem High -- overcame at least three years of failures to meet the AYP standards for 2011, according to initial data released last week by the state Department of Education.

Local educators seem confident that the failing schools will meet the standards once the final AYP report is released in the fall. The later report will take into account student test scores from summer classes.

In high schools, enough students must pass standardized tests and graduate on time to meet the AYP standards outlined by the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Following graduation ceremonies in May, Evans High's graduation rate -- a measure of the number of students who complete high school within four years -- reached 82.8 percent. School officials already had reported that Evans High needed nine more graduates to meet this year's 85 percent graduation rate minimum.

After summer school graduation July 8, Evans High Principal Don Brigdon said 15 more seniors received their diplomas, which will raise the school's graduation rate to about 87 percent.

Though Harlem High also failed to meet the 85 percent graduation rate minimum, the school improved enough on last school year's graduation rate to be counted a success.

In 2010, Harlem High produced a 63.6 percent graduation rate. The school needed to improve by at least 6.36 percentage points and did, with a 70.1 percent graduation rate.

For failing to meet the graduation rate minimum for the past three years, Harlem High is listed as "needs improvement" by the state, which can impose increasingly severe sanctions, up to wresting away control of the school, on schools that continually fail to meet standards.

If Harlem High meets the 90 percent graduation rate minimum next year, or improves by at least 7.01 percentage points, it will come off the needs improvement list.

Meeting that minimum standard next year could prove difficult for schools throughout the state, including those in Columbia County.

Greenbrier High had a 90 percent graduation rate this year, but Lakeside High had only 89.6 percent. Because Grovetown High opened only two years ago, it will continue to use attendance rates as an AYP measurement until 2013.

The percentage of schools in Georgia making AYP this year, 63.2 percent, fell by nearly 8 percent compared to 2010 because of ever-increasing standards mandated by NCLB, said Georgia School Superintendent John Barge.

"We have many great schools in the state providing a high-quality education to all students," Barge said in a press release. "But the rate at which the academic bar and the graduation rate requirement increased this year prevented more schools from making AYP.

"We know we were up against the proverbial wall because this bar increases each year, and it appears that we have begun to hit it."

In addition to attendance rates, AYP for elementary and middle schools is determined by pupil performance on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test. Those tests group students into subcategories based on race, disabilities and socio-economic status.

Enough eighth-graders must pass the reading and math portions of the CRCT to meet AYP standards.

At Harlem Middle, one eighth-grade student in one demographic subgroup scored too low on the math portion of the CRCT, said Principal Carla Shelton.

"It was like someone reached in, tore your heart out and stomped on it," Shelton said of missing AYP after her school made concerted efforts to meet the standards.

Still, Shelton said, the pupil who failed has since received individual tutoring from his math teacher and has been retested. Once the results come back, the school still could make AYP.

According to state data, Grovetown Middle failed to make AYP due to low CRCT math scores by Hispanic and economically disadvantaged pupils.

School system Title I Director Lisa Soloff said Grovetown Middle needs five more Hispanic students to pass the retests to meet the standard in that category.

Of the at least 21 economically disadvantaged pupils at Grovetown Middle who retook the CRCT, all will need to pass to bring their school up to standards.

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