In a nine-month school year, students at Atlanta’s Whitefoord Elementary are learning an average of 5.7 months of material. Three miles away at Wesley International Academy, students are taking in 12.1 months.
For the first time, new data obtained from Atlanta Public Schools shows the uneven academic growth produced by schools across the district. This so-called “value-added” data quantifies how much students are learning each year and is considered by some educators to be a more fair measurement of a school’s success than pass-or-fail standardized tests.
Atlanta is one of the first districts in the state to use the data, but by the end of this year all public school parents in Georgia will be able to access similar information online. Atlanta’s results have never been available to the public and were obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through an open records request.
“It gives us a different view of student performance, a more complete view,” said Melissa Fincher, associate superintendent for the Georgia Department of Education. “In the old system … we were not giving the student or school credit for growth. We’re changing that.”
States across the nation are beginning to use student growth data as a way to evaluate the success of schools and teachers. Atlanta Public Schools’ value-added model uses the Georgia Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests and select End of Course tests. The statistical formula employs academic history and demographics to project how a particular student should score on future exams. The value-added score is based on how close the student comes to that projection.
Value-added data will not replace state exams that measure grade-level proficiency. Rather, the growth model will be an additional tool to measure student performance in a different way.
For some Atlanta parents, the value-added model confirms what they always knew — some schools do a better job of educating students than others.
“It shouldn’t be that one school is doing half a year and another school is doing a year and a half. That’s a problem,” said Shawnna Hayes-Tavares, a parent advocate whose son attends Young Middle, where students averaged eight months of growth.
Four of the district’s top middle schools are charters, where students are learning 12 months or more of material. Yet the district’s lowest middle school is also a charter, Atlanta Neighborhood, where students are taking in about five months of material. Nine months is considered the average.
Matt Underwood, executive director and middle campus principal at Atlanta Neighborhood Charter, has doubts about the accuracy of the district’s value-added data, and said his school chooses to focus on critical thinking and research skills rather than superficial information that may show up on a multiple-choice test.
“We’d all be wise to not fall into the same old habits with testing and assuming that there are not flaws and limitations to what a single score can tell us about students, teachers, or schools,” Underwood said.
Both state and school officials are quick to point out that the academic growth model is just one indicator of a school’s performance and shouldn’t be the sole determinant of a school’s success. But it offers a more complete picture of the impact schools are having on students, said Rubye Sullivan, Atlanta’s director of research and evaluation for school improvement.
In the past, schools were deemed “failing” if a certain percentage of students didn’t test at grade level. Educators said that system was unfair because it didn’t take into account how behind a student was when the year started. For example, a fifth-grader may start the year reading on a second-grade level and end up on a fourth-grade level. The old system didn’t account for that growth and would still count the student as failing.
“I was a teacher. … If my students were below grade level and weren’t growing enough to meet proficiency marks, I was deemed a failure,” Sullivan said. “It’s a pleasant surprise for me to be able to see the growth in schools historically considered not effective — to be able to tell teachers, ‘Yes, you are doing great work, and we need to understand what that work is.’ ”
Conversely, schools long considered “high performing” based on the percentage of students passing exams may not be pushing top students enough. At Springdale Park Elementary, results show 2.5 percent of students failed state exams, but the 2012 value-added data shows students learned an average of 6.9 months of material.
Atlanta also has data on the academic growth of individual teachers, but the school district has not made a decision yet about whether that information will be released. Other states and districts have chosen to keep such data private. District officials said they have not released the school-level results to parents because they are intended for internal, school improvement purposes.
This month was the first time Atlanta teachers received a report on their growth. Next year, the state’s growth data will be included as part of a teacher’s evaluation. That data, which is based on a different model than what’s used in Atlanta, will allow parents to see their child’s growth results, and which schools have high, average or low growth.
Atlanta school officials started reporting growth data in 2010-11, a year after additional test security was put in place following allegations of cheating. For now, the data will be used to figure out what’s working in Atlanta schools and how to replicate success in other classrooms.
“It’s a great new piece of information,” Sullivan said. “It’s not the whole story. But it will help us get better.”
New “value added” data obtained from Atlanta Public Schools shows for the first time how many months of learning students averaged at each school. APS is one of the first districts in the state to produce this “growth” data. Later this year, the state will be releasing its own version of growth data for all schools.
School Name Average months of learning
Adamsville Elementary School 9.8
Atlanta Neighborhood Charter Elementary 10.6
Atlanta Neighborhood Charter Middle School 5.2
Atlanta Preparatory Academy Middle School 7.9
Atlanta Preparatory Academy Elementary School 6.9
Bazoline E. Usher/Collier Heights Elementary School 8.6
Beecher Hills Elementary School 7.9
Benteen Elementary School 7.6
Bethune Elementary School 6.2
Bolton Academy 6.6
Booker T. Washington - Early College Small School 12
Booker T. Washington High School — Banking, Finance and Investment Small School 10
Booker T. Washington High School — Health, Sciences and Nutrition Small School 9
Boyd Elementary School 12.8
Brandon Elementary School 10.3
Brown Middle School 8.6
Bunche Middle School 8.1
Burgess-Peterson Elementary School 8.6
Cascade Elementary School 7.1
Centennial Place Elementary School 9.7
Charles R. Drew Charter Middle School 12
Charles R. Drew Charter Elementary School 10.6
Cleveland Elementary School 9.1
Coan Middle School 8.7
Connally Elementary School 8.9
Continental Colony Elementary School 7.7
Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Academy High School 9
Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Academy Middle School 7.4
Crim High School 6
D. H. Stanton Elementary School 8.9
Deerwood Academy School 9.6
Dobbs Elementary School 8.4
Douglass High School 8
Dunbar Elementary School 8
Early College High School at Carver 17
F. L. Stanton Elementary School 9.3
Fain Elementary School 10.4
Fickett Elementary School 8.5
Finch Elementary 9.5
Forest Hill Academy 8.9
Forest Hill Academy High School 6
Garden Hills Elementary School 9.9
Gideons Elementary School 10.4
Grady High School 9
Grove Park Elementary School 8.8
Harper-Archer Middle School 7.3
Heritage Academy Elementary 7.9
Humphries Elementary School 9.3
Hutchinson Elementary School 6.2
Inman Middle School 11.2
Intown Charter Academy 9.1
Jackson Elementary School 10.1
KIPP Atlanta Collegiate 12
KIPP Ways (Grade 5) 10.5
KIPP Ways Middle School 13.4
KIPP Vision (Grade 5) 8.1
KIPP Vision Middle School 12.9
Kimberly Elementary School 7.8
Kindezi Charter Elementary School 9.5
King Middle School 9.9
Kipp Strive Academy Middle School 12.9
Kipp Strive Academy 11.6
Lin Elementary School 9
Long Middle School 8.6
M. A. Jones Elementary School 9.2
“Maynard H. Jackson, Jr. High School” 7
Mays High School 8
Miles Elementary School 8.2
Morningside Elementary School 10.2
North Atlanta High School 10
Parkside Elementary School 9.7
Perkerson Elementary School 10.6
Peyton Forest Elementary School 6.4
Price Middle School 7.8
Rivers Elementary School 7.9
School of Health Sciences and Research at Carver 11
School of Technology at Carver 9
Scott Elementary School 8.3
Slater Elementary School 8.9
Smith Elementary School 8.4
South Atlanta Law and Social Justice School 11
South Atlanta School of Computer Animation and Design 10
South Atlanta School of Health and Medical Science 10
Springdale Park Elementary School 6.9
Sutton Middle School 10.4
Sylvan Hills Middle School 9.5
The Best Academy at Benjamin S. Carson High School 7
The Best Academy at Benjamin S. Carson 6.7
The John Hope-Charles Walter Hill Elementary Schools 9.3
The School of the Arts at Carver 7
Therrell School of Engineering, Math, and Science 10
Therrell School of Health and Science 4
Therrell School of Law, Government and Public Policy 7
Thomasville Heights Elementary School 6.4
Toomer Elementary School 6.7
Towns Elementary School 7 Venetian Hills Elementary School 10.2
Wesley International Academy 12.1
Wesley International Academy Middle 9.9
West Manor Elementary School 10.7
Woodson Elementary School 8.7
Young Middle School 8.2
Note: Small differences between schools may not be statistically significant.
Source: Atlanta Public Schools