Some schools rise from mess to model

Stability in principal’s office a factor in Atlanta, Gainesville

Today, Kennedy is dramatically different. The southwest Atlanta school is no longer one of 278 Georgia schools failing to meet student achievement standards under the federal No Child Left Behind Law. The law made standardized tests a key measure of success.

Schools are expected to improve student learning continually, with all students being proficient in math and reading by 2014, according to the law. Schools that repeatedly fail are labeled “needs improvement” and face sanctions ranging from requiring free tutoring or new teachers to being taken over by the state.

Kennedy is one of 17 Georgia schools that recently worked its way off the “needs improvement” list after five or more years. It did so by focusing on the students who were struggling most and, in some cases, expanding the learning day to include after-school time and Saturdays.

“It felt almost like my 16th birthday when I received my first car,” said Lucious Brown, 41, the school’s principal. “When you hear those scores and discover you’re off the list it’s awesome, truly awesome.”

Making it off the list is a huge achievement for schools like Kennedy Middle and East Hall Middle in Gainesville, which carried the stigma from 2002 to 2008.

East Hall’s biggest challenge: Students with disabilities were not making sufficient progress on state tests.

Under No Child Left Behind, subgroups such as low-income students, disabled students and English language learners must meet rising standards on the math and language arts portions of the Criterion Referenced Competency Test, Georgia’s state test. Otherwise, the entire school fails to make what is known as Adequate Yearly Progress, which measures performance on standardized tests as well as other factors such as attendance. In high schools, AYP is determined by the Georgia High School Graduation Tests in math and English language arts.

About 12 percent of Georgia’s schools have the “needs improvement” label, including 45 that have not met testing standards for five or more years, according to the Georgia Department of Education.

To shake “needs improvement” status, a school must make AYP two years in a row.

The 17 schools removed from the list shared several traits, state school Superintendent Kathy Cox said recently. They had strong, instruction-focused principals, professional development and teachers who shared lesson plans and strategies.

Now, the goal is to make AYP a third straight year. In doing so, they’ll earn a new label: Title I Distinguished School.

Improvement achieved

The 17 schools statewide removed from list after five or more years:

● Kennedy Middle, Atlanta Public Schools

● Long Middle, Atlanta Public Schools

● Oak Hill Middle, Baldwin County

● Bryan County Middle, Bryan County

● Henderson Middle, Butts County

● Crawford County Middle, Crawford County

● Merry Acres Middle, Dougherty County

● Franklin County Middle, Franklin County

● East Hall Middle, Hall County

● Mitchell County Middle, Mitchell County

● Clements Middle, Newton County

● Pelham City Middle, Pelham City

● Morgan Road Middle, Richmond County

● Spirit Creek Middle, Richmond County

● Tubman Middle, Richmond County

● Upson-Lee Middle, Thomaston-Upson Schools

● MacIntyre Park Middle, Thomasville City

By the numbers

278: Number of Georgia schools on the Needs Improvement list

45: Number of Georgia schools on the list for five or more years

11: Number of metro Atlanta schools currently on the list for five or more years

Those schools are:

Forrest Hills Academy, Atlanta Public Schools; Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy, APS; Crim High School, APS; The Best Academy at Benjamin S. Carson, APS; Turner Middle School, APS; Griffin Middle School, Cobb County; Osborne High School, Cobb County; Clarkston High School, DeKalb County; DeKalb/Rockdale Psycho-Educational Center, DeKalb County; McNair Middle School, DeKalb County; Open Campus High School, DeKalb County

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