State revises school report card; ratings likely to shift

Most Georgia schools will see a change in their performance rating when the new scores are released next spring, and not just because students did worse on new state tests.

The Georgia Board of Education voted unanimously Friday to amend the “weights” used in calculating school performance, downplaying raw test achievement in favor of “growth” in the state’s report card for schools and school districts.

The College and Career-Ready Performance Index is used to determine which schools are “persistently failing” and therefore subject to takeover by Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed Opportunity School District. Voters will decide next year whether to amend the state constitution to create that district. The scores also determine whether schools merit other special attention from the state, and they are meant to tell parents something about the quality of the teaching and administration at each school.

All scores are expected to drop compared to last year because they’ll be based for the first time on the new Georgia Milestones tests. Officials say those tests are more rigorous and more in line with standards in other states than the tests they replaced, and initial statewide scores were lower than on the previous tests.

But the new changes in the school report card are expected to reshuffle rankings for other reasons: Schools with large numbers of low-income students, since they tend to score lower on achievement tests, will likely move up while traditionally high-achieving schools will probably take a hit. That’s because achievement, which counted for 60 percent of CCRPI until now, will count for 50 percent next time. Meanwhile, “progress” — a complicated measure of where each student performed relative to academically similar peers, will count for 40 percent. Until now, that measure, often referred to as growth, was only a quarter of the report card.

The new scoring system also downplays the importance of closing the achievement gap for at-risk groups, dropping the weight in that category from 15 percent to 10 percent.

These new changes are the latest sign of the diminishing influence of raw test scores on schools’ perceived performance. In the recent past, achievement counted for 70 percent of the CCRPI measure.

There’s been plenty of debate about whether raw achievement or growth is the best measure of academic performance. Melissa Fincher, the testing chief for the Georgia Department of Education, said these latest changes are an attempt to strike a balance and also take into account the way students are categorized under the new Milestones tests. Under the old Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests and high school End of Course Tests, students were broken into three categories: failing, “meets” and “exceeds.” The Milestones use four categories that basically mean failing, just about failing, meets and exceeds.

“If we don’t change the CCRPI, it won’t show where our schools are,” she said.

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