No report card for K-12 schools, but Georgia releases some data

Jordan Greene works with her “Roomies” and her “Zoomies” during fifth grade language arts at Freeman’s Mill Elementary School in Lawrenceville on Monday morning, Nov. 2, 2020. Due to the hardship of learning during a pandemic, the federal government waived "accountability" for schools last year. That is why the Georgia Department of Education quietly released pieces of the annual College and Career Ready Performance Index without compiling them into school scores. (Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Ben Gray

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Jordan Greene works with her “Roomies” and her “Zoomies” during fifth grade language arts at Freeman’s Mill Elementary School in Lawrenceville on Monday morning, Nov. 2, 2020. Due to the hardship of learning during a pandemic, the federal government waived "accountability" for schools last year. That is why the Georgia Department of Education quietly released pieces of the annual College and Career Ready Performance Index without compiling them into school scores. (Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Ben Gray

State releases some data to guide improvement efforts for students

The Georgia Department of Education this week quietly released some new measures of K-12 student performance from last school year.

But due to the pandemic, the numbers will not be used to create grades that parents and others can use to judge and rank each school.

“This is just the limited portion of the data we were still able to publish,” agency spokeswoman Meghan Frick explained in a text message. “We feel very strongly that using any of these data for improvement is appropriate; using them to disparage or label a school or district is not.”

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Normally, the data from tests and other measures, such as graduation rates, are compiled into a numerical score for a document called the College and Career Ready Performance Index. The index, which is basically a report card for schools, is largely based on Milestones test scores.

But the tests were disrupted by COVID-19, so the state education agency is referring to these new data files simply as “CCRPI-related.”

Some of the data files, posted Wednesday, are old. They include Milestones test scores released in the summer and the graduation rates posted in October.

But there was some new data, too, such as English learners’ performance on a language test and enrollment rates in Advanced Placement and other “accelerated” courses.

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Ken Zeff, a former superintendent for Fulton County Schools, said every bit of data is helpful.

For instance, 1 in 3 metro Atlanta students in third grade didn’t take the Milestones test for reading, and the average pass rate fell several percentage points, he noted.

“We don’t want to over-interpret that data point, but we should talk about it. We should look at it and just recognize that we’ve had a dip in learning,” said Zeff, the metro Atlanta leader of Learn4Life, a national nonprofit that supports public schools.

The files were posted on a page in the agency’s website Wednesday rather than on the main page. Instead of the normal press release, there was a short message with the data noting that the U.S. Department of Education had granted Georgia an accountability waiver last spring.

“Thus, there are no CCRPI summary scores for the state, school districts, or schools,” the note says.

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The cumulative Milestones results are flawed because of low participation rates. At Harper Elementary School in Clayton County, for instance, just 1% of students took a Milestones test in math. At Roswell High School in Fulton County, the participation rate in English testing was 1%.

Some schools had high participation, such as Centennial Arts Academy in Gainesville, where just a quarter of a percent of students skipped their math test. But at many schools, the rate was so low that the state simply reported the percentage as “too few students.”

The low participation came as no surprise, since many students were still attending remotely last spring. Due to the high-stakes nature of the Milestones — the results are normally used to judge teachers and administrators — the tests are only given in person.

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Georgia’s overall Milestones scores fell from the 2018-19 school year, the last time the tests were given. (The federal government waived the tests in the spring of 2020.) The percentage of failing students rose by 2 to 9 points, varying by grade level and subject.

Zeff said he understands why the state education agency is downplaying these report card measures. Many students learned less than they might have due to the pandemic, and the impulse to blame teachers and school leaders is a strong one, he said.

“Obviously, nobody should lose their job over that,” he said. But the data can still point to schools that did better or worse: High achievers can be studied, their lessons applied to those who struggled. Also, he said, the data can help steer Georgia’s billions of dollars in federal coronavirus relief aid to the schools that need it most.