The Georgia Department of Education Wednesday named 79 of the state’s highest performing schools with a high population of low-income students and another 156 that have made the biggest academic strides with those students, who are often associated with troubled and unstable homes.
“These schools are shining examples of what we can achieve in public education in Georgia,” State School Superintendent John Barge said in a statement. “I want to take what’s working at our Reward Schools and replicate that in every school in the state. These are the schools making education work for all Georgians.”
The high-performing and high-progress schools, named “reward schools” under the state’s new accountability system, also managed to make significant progress in closing the achievement gaps between white students and students of color and to increase graduation rates.
The list includes 46 schools from metro Atlanta.
Local educators from those schools attributed their success to innovative programs and high standards despite deep austerity cuts.
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“This recognition is really due to teachers’ hard work and high expectations coupled with the support of our parents,” said Kim Herron the principal of Fayetteville Intermediate School, which was named among the top performing schools in the state for the first time. “It’s a team effort.”
Normally, the state gives its top performing schools extra Title I money to spend on innovative programs or hiring new teachers. But that won’t happen this year because the state received less Title I money than it expected, said Matt Cardoza, a state education department spokesman.
The state created the new accountability system for its Title 1 schools, or those with a high percentage of low-income students, after it received a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act in February. Under the Act, schools faced harsh sanctions for failing to improve test scores.
Under the new system, the state categorizes schools as priority, focus and reward schools depending on graduation rates and progress on state assessment tests. State officials created a special “alert” category so they could give assistance to schools that don’t receive federal Title 1 money but have lower than average graduation rates and test scores.
To be classified as “highest-performing,” a school’s test scores and graduation rates must fall in the top five percent among Title I schools for three consecutive years.
To be classified as “High-Progress”, a school’s academic gains must fall in the top ten percent of Title 1 schools for three consecutive years.
At Fayetteville Intermediate School, Herron said the staff holds reading and math nights where parents can learn how to help their children at home. On Thursdays, struggling students are pulled aside to learn the next week’s lesson plan.
“We have to use the precious time we have with them wisely,” Herron said.
At North Clayton High School, which was named a “high-progress” school, principal Derrick Dalton said teachers recently began testing students more frequently throughout the year to determine their skill level. After lectures, they group students depending on their performance level so they can spend extra time with them.
The recognition was a bright spot for the staff, Dalton said.
Clayton County Schools’ accreditation was recently threatened by Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Six of Clayton County’s schools were named “reward schools” Wednesday. Fifteen of its schools were deemed “focus schools” for its low test scores in March.
“We deal with perception on a daily basis,” Dalton said. “We know how we’re seen from outside the county. People are quick to say we have bad schools. But this is a blessing right here. This is a sign that good things are happening and that we’re producing.”