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SGMS, LFMS named focus schools
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With a new education evaluation system moving into place in light of the Georgia waiver from No Child Left Behind standards, two Liberty County schools have been named “focus schools.”

Lewis Frasier and Snelson-Golden middle schools were included on a list of focus schools released March 20 by the Georgia Department of Education, with achievement cited as the reason for both schools being named.

Liberty County School System Superintendent Dr. Judy Scherer briefed the board of education on the listing Tuesday during a work session, and she explained that the focus schools list is one of four federally required designations under the state’s waiver from No Child Left Behind.

“We’re no longer going to talk about AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress), needs-improvement schools or those kinds of things,” Scherer said. “Rather, we’re moving to a new kind of accountability system.”

That new system requires the state to identify schools that are reward schools, priority schools, focus schools and alert schools, according to federal criteria. It also uses the Georgia College and Career Ready Performance Index, or GCCRPI, in place of the former AYP assessment.

Previous designations, such as needs improvement status, do not carry over to the new system, Scherer said. “All that’s wiped out; wherever you were has little to do with where you are now.”

In July, Liberty County High School was deemed “needs improvement year one,” while Bradwell Institute was deemed “needs improvement year four” — but those designations do not necessarily correspond to placement on a list under the new system.

The focus schools list was compiled based on student scores on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, or CRCT, and the end-of-course-tests for the 2010-11 school year, she added.

According to a state release, two factors can place a school on the focus list: a graduation rate less than 60 percent over two years and the largest within-school gaps between the highest-achieving subgroup and lowest-achieving subgroup based on composite standardized test scores.

Lewis Frasier was selected for its achievement gap between multiracial students and students with disabilities, while Snelson-Golden was selected for its achievement gap between the white subgroup and students with disabilities, Scherer said.

The schools’ appearance on the list came as a surprise to Scherer, who said her data analysis was not as statistically concise as the state’s analysis. The curriculum department currently is trying to get more information from the state about how it compiled its data.

Scherer also acknowledged last week’s report that special-education scores rose considerably in 2010-11 over previous years, but said that the disaggregated data still shows a discrepancy between special-needs scores and the highest-performing groups.

With the new designation, the state will provide three years of support to the schools, though its exact methods and offerings have yet to be determined, she added. The school will be required to write a corrective-action plan that outlines how the school will offer a flexible-learning plan; send notices to parents describing the school’s status; attend summer leadership academy in 2012 or 2013 and develop a school-improvement plan.

Other requirements address how the schools allocate their Title 1 funds, and the state recommends each school set aside 10 percent of their Title 1, Part A allocation for professional development.

The priority schools list was released last week, and no Liberty County School System institution was on that list. Reward schools will not be named until September.

Georgia also will identify alert schools in three categories:  subgroup alert schools, subject alert schools and graduation alert schools. Scherer said that list is slated to be released April 2.

“It’s very difficult to look at these definitions and then guess,” Scherer said, adding that the state has not released enough information to try to determine whether any LCSS schools will make the alert list.

The other performance indicator, the GCCRPI, will take more factors — such as academic performance, progress and closing the achievement gap — into account, as well as movement toward technical careers. Concurrently, the state also is rolling out the Common Core Standards and new teacher evaluations.

“Obviously, this shift in philosophy …,” Scherer said. “The other major significant difference here is if you’re on a list, … you’re on it for three years because the state has made a commitment to support you for three years. … You never knew where you were going to be with AYP.”

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