DeKalb Schools: Focus on struggling schools fuels CCRPI progress

DeKalb County School District officials said Thursday that the district saw marked improvement on the state’s report card because of “intensive, intentional and strategic” efforts flooding struggling schools with resources.

Superintendent Steve Green tied significant academic growth at many of the district’s struggling schools to about $2 million in resources — including additional testing and instructional coaches and tutors — funneled into those schoolhouses. The new NWEA/MAP tests function as guides for where students are as the year progresses, he said.

“When you start to lift from the bottom … it carries over to the other levels,” he said.

Thursday, the Georgia Department of Education released figures from the 2016-2017 College and Career Readiness Performance Index (CCRPI), which grades schools on several factors including student performance on standardized state tests. Schools can earn up to 110 points, including 10 bonus points for various challenge and "exceeding the bar" components.

The DeKalb County School District scored 69.9, up from 66.6 last year, and still lags behind the state average, which was up 1.4 points from 73.6 to 75. District officials were pleased with the improvement, which outpaced the state rate. Still, 30 of the district's 129 schools reporting scores saw declines. Last year, 80 schools' scores declined.

Knox Phillips, executive director of the office of research, assessments and grants, noted hurdles the district faces to improve student achievement, including its large immigrant and refugee population, as well as the large number of transient students.

“For us, it’s a point of celebration,” Phillips said. “Growth is now manifesting into proficiency and mastery.”

The district is implementing a new curriculum structure where teachers across the district are working on the same lessons. When students suddenly transfer schools during the year, the hope is they find themselves on the same lesson when they enter the new classroom.

Three DeKalb schools scored above 100, and another 13 had double-digit growth. Among those is Panola Way Elementary School, up 17.1 points to 59.6. Panola Way was one of a handful of schools where principals were reassigned near the end of the 2016-2017 school year in a move to bolster student achievement. Ernestine Copeland, a retired Panola Way teacher who now substitutes for the district, said the improvement was a joint effort between the district and the school's former principal, Ethan Suber, who worked hard to understand the adversity students there faced.

“He understood the population we had, and everything they brought to school with them,” she said. “He understood them, and they understood his expectations. Mr. Suber was good for Panola Way. These numbers … let me know that the hard work we (teachers) did, with him, paid off.”

Suber is still employed by the district as an assistant principal at Stephenson Middle School. Efforts to reach him Thursday were not successful.