School scores drop under Georgia’s new report card

Staff writer Rose French and data specialist Sean Sposito contributed to this article.

The College and Career-Ready Performance Index grades schools on the following: achievement, academic progress and closing the achievement gap between different groups of students. Each school and district can earn up to 100 points through those areas and an additional 10 points by enrolling students in high-level academic courses and through strong academic performance from poor students, special education students and those still learning English. Academic achievement — how students fared on end-of-course and standardized tests — accounts for up to 60 points. Progress — moving students from one level of performance to a higher level — accounts for up to 25 points. Closing the gap in academic performance between groups of students accounts for up to 15 points. And then there are those additional 10 points schools and districts can earn.

Here’s the breakdown of how Georgia schools fared on the CCRPI. The scores are based on incomplete data from the state and may change.

Grade Level 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14

Elementary Schools 74.5 77.8 72.6

Middle Schools 73.8 74.6 73.2

High Schools 72.8 71.8 68.4

Source: Georgia Department of Education.

Go to to search our database to see how a school fared on the CCRPI.

Georgia’s schools got a disappointing report card on Tuesday as the achievement gap widened between the lowest-performing students and everyone else.

Elementary schools saw the biggest drop in the College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI), which grades schools on a variety of factors but mostly on performance on standardized state tests. High schools continued a slide that has been going on since the new evaluations were first employed in 2012. Middle school scores also declined.

Though officials will spend weeks sifting through the massive data pile to assess what went wrong, it’s already clear that schools across the state lost points because of the poor performance of the bottom quarter of students.

“A general look is that many of our districts are struggling with their achievement gaps,” State Superintendent John Barge told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Those gaps have actually gotten larger in many places.”

The index was released before all scores were final. The Georgia Department of Education cautioned that results for 29 school districts, including Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties, were incomplete. Barge said he wanted to adhere as much as possible to the original November release date, so educators could use the results as soon as possible. He said the overall state numbers could change and all final scores should be out by spring.

Barge leaves office in January when Richard Woods, who won election in November, will be sworn in.

The scores are supposed to be roughly equivalent to the result a student can get on a test, with a grade in the 70s being average. The outcomes will put each school in a category from best to worst, with state assistance and attention going to those at the bottom.

In April, Barge blamed the 2013 drop in the score for high schools on coordinate algebra, a new course in which many students struggled. On Tuesday, he said math continues to bedevil students.

The state’s overall score was 72, down 3.8 points.

Melanie Heineman, an active PTA parent with two children in Cobb County schools, said that is dismaying — and confusing.

“This is so new,” she said. “I know, particularly in the schools we’re in, they were as of last year trying to figure out what it meant, putting the scores together.”

The new system of measuring school performance replaces the one implemented under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which used raw test scores as the key measure. Critics said that system undermined morale at schools with large numbers of low-income students or kids with other disadvantages.

Under CCRPI, standardized state test scores are still crucial, accounting for 60 of the 110 points possible. Another 25 points, though, can come from a re-processing of test scores into something the state calls "growth." Growth compares the annual change in a student's test scores against those of peers with similar previous scores. The better a student's relative performance, the higher his or her growth percentile.

Fifteen points can come from closing the achievement gap. Statewide, points awarded for that category dropped nearly in half for elementary schools and by more than a point for high schools.

Dana Rickman, lead researcher with the nonprofit Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, said the widening achievement gap is consistent with rising poverty. “If the schools are getting overwhelmed with poverty and they don’t have the resources to shore them up, then you’re going to see schools really struggling,” she said. Schools with high poverty need to invest more in smaller student-teacher ratios, longer school days and more tutoring — basically more contact time with adults, she said.

The Atlanta school district attributed its elementary school declines to a loss of 4 points in the achievement gap category. “Additional supports are necessary for our lowest performing students,” said a statement from district spokeswoman Kimberly Willis Green.

Atlanta just got updated results Monday, and officials were still digging through the data Tuesday to find other trends.

Gwinnett County, the state’s largest district, got complete results that show declines among all age groups even though raw test scores at the elementary and high school levels went up, said Jonathan Patterson, the associate superintendent for curriculum and instructional support. He didn’t have an explanation but said the district is looking to eke out gains in its CCRPI score by focusing on each component. Graduation rates are one focus. They rose slightly, from 72.7 percent to 75 percent last year.

“If we are leaving points on the table, that’s significant and that matters to us,” Patterson said.

There were a few bright spots in metro Atlanta: DeKalb’s middle school score rose 4.4 points to 64.3, while Forsyth County elementary schools rose just over 1 point and Clayton County showed modest gains at the middle and high school levels.

DeKalb Superintendent Michael Thurmond said he used federal grant money to hire 50 retired educators as tutors at the elementary and middle school level. He said that may explain why middle school scores rose, but he couldn’t explain the drop for elementary students. “We’ve got to look at the data before we can draw any hard conclusions,” he said. He said DeKalb’s data were incomplete because the district’s absentee report was mangled by a computer glitch. The district has resubmitted the numbers.

Despite the overall declines, some schools saw increases. Each had its own explanation.

Indian Creek Elementary in DeKalb had one of the biggest rises in metro Atlanta — 22.7 points — in large part because of a high growth score. Principal Antonette Campbell attributed it to the use of performance data to target student weaknesses, and to Saturday school to catch up kids who had fallen behind.

Hutchinson Elementary in Atlanta had an increase of nearly 13 points, for a score of 67.9, which came atop more than a 12-point gain the prior year.

Principal Shuanta Broadway said she broke the complicated CCRPI into pieces and assigned a staffer to oversee each. For instance, students’ reading ability is tracked by what’s known as Lexile scores, and a staffer ensures each child has appropriate texts.

“Every person played a part down to my reading specialist,” Broadway said.

Despite Clayton County’s nearly 5 point drop for elementary schools, principal Candice Jester was able to show a substantial increase at Kilpatrick Elementary. The high-poverty school, where about a third of students are learning English, had one of the biggest gains in metro Atlanta, jumping 27 points to 79.3.

Jester attributed it to a district-wide initiative called “explicit” instruction: tell students what they’re going to learn and why it’s useful, practice with the teacher and in groups, diagnose problems, then study and take tests.

“What we call it is good teaching,” said Jester, who is in her 23rd year as an educator. She struggled to explain why her school outperformed the rest of the district, though, since all schools are supposed to be doing explicit instruction: “It just kind of depends how much you put into it, I guess.”