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Georgia’s education plan lacks ‘urgency’ to raise achievement, group says

Georgia’s plan to meet federal guidelines for student achievement and performance is due Monday. The complex plan the state is submitting has drawn some praise and some critcism, including pointed remarks from Gov. Nathan Deal . JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
Georgia’s plan to meet federal guidelines for student achievement and performance is due Monday. The complex plan the state is submitting has drawn some praise and some critcism, including pointed remarks from Gov. Nathan Deal . JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Credit: John Spink

Credit: John Spink

A group of educational experts gives Georgia’s proposal to comply with new federal education law low marks in several areas.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, passed two years ago, replaced the No Child Left Behind Act as the nation’s reigning law for schools. It deals mainly with accountability. While ESSA is more hands-off than its predecessor, giving states more control over how to hold schools accountable for results on standardized state tests and other measures, it still requires a plan.

Georgia is awaiting approval of the 111-page plan it submitted to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in September. Since then, several groups have issued their critiques, including, on Tuesday, Bellwether Education Partners and The Collaborative for Student Success. The 45 education experts they convened rated Georgia's plan poorly on four of nine measures that govern testing and identification of under-performing schools.

The plan doesn’t specify how Georgia will maintain comparability with federal requirements if it pursues an alternative to standardized state tests as the main gauge of student performance, the review says. It also gives too much credit to schools with high-performing students, sets too low a bar on performance for traditionally at-risk groups and makes it too easy for schools deemed to be under-performing to earn a subsequent satisfactory rating, the review says.

"Georgia's accountability system does not convey the necessary sense of urgency to raise the achievement of the students who are the furthest behind," the review says.

The Georgia Department of Education, which wrote the state plan, said the criticism “misinterprets” the plan and its intent. The plan doesn’t include all the information critics want because the department wanted “to avoid being overly prescriptive,” it said in a statement.

“It’s our position that Georgia’s proposed accountability system sets goals for schools that are ambitious but attainable,” it added, saying No Child had “overly ambitious” targets that didn’t result in real change.

Other groups have offered criticism and praise for Georgia's plan, with one ranking it among the best in the nation and another saying it should be revised before earning federal approval.

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) defended Georgia’s plan. Chris Minnich, CCSSO executive director, said Tuesday that the plan’s authors found “bold and innovative ways to support schools in addressing a student’s full needs.”

Georgia was far from the only state that came in for criticism on Tuesday.

“We believe that many states are setting the expectations far too low,” said Lillian Lowery, a participant in the review who was state school superintendent in Maryland and education secretary of Delaware. She said too many states proposed school grading systems that will “mask” the performance of at-risk groups.

Andrew Rotherham, co-founder of Bellwether and a former special assistant for domestic policy under President Bill Clinton, said most states treated their plans as “an exercise in minimal compliance.”

The AJC's Ty Tagami keeps you updated on the latest in Georgia education at myAJC.com, the subscriber website of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where you'll find in-depth reports, including these stories: