2 county schools named to state’s ‘focus’ list

Published 6:45 pm Friday, March 30, 2012

Two Decatur County schools were named to the state’s “focus” schools list earlier this month, but local school officials said that doesn’t mean those schools are falling short in their mission.

The Georgia Department of Education recently released a list of 156 schools that were named to its “focus” list, one of three new designations used by states that requested a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. “Priority” schools are considered the lowest-performing 5 percent of public schools in the state. “Focus” schools are those in the next-highest 10 percent, and the “alert” schools — which have not yet been identified — are the next-highest performing after “focus” schools.

Bainbridge Middle School and Bainbridge High School were the two county schools named to the “focus” list, based on data from the 2010-11 school year. Decatur County had no schools on the “priority” list.

However, County School Superintendent Dr. Fred Rayfield noted that the reasoning for the “focus” designation is a bit misleading. Schools are typically named to the focus list because they have a large gap between their highest-performing “sub group” and lowest-performing “sub group.” A “sub group” is a classification, such as white, black, Hispanic, etc., that has at least 30 students and is considered a separate category under the old NCLB law.

In the case of BHS, the state considers that the gap is too wide between the subgroup with the highest graduation rate (white students, 83.4 percent) and the subgroup with the lowest graduation rate (students with disabilities, 29.8 percent). It is the same case at BMS, where there is a large gap between the highest-performing sub group on the CRCT tests (white students in four subjects and Hispanic students in math, 90.8 percent) and the lowest subgroup (students with disabilities, 49.4 percent).

“We knew that we had a tremendous gap between our all-student group and our students with disabilities,” said Dr. Suzi Bonifay, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. “We’ve actually had an increase in the graduation rate of our students with disabilities, but we’d also admit that it’s still not where we need it to be.”

Bonifay noted that students with disabilities have actually had their graduation rates increase every year since 2008 — in 2008, the graduation rate was approximately 10 percent. In fact, that subgroup is the only subgroup that has had its graduation rate increase every one of the last four years.

Bonifay said that BHS had 57 students in the students-with-disabilities subgroup, which is larger than the 30-student benchmark. However, several nearby high schools do not have at least 30 students in the students-with-disabilities group. As a result, those schools are not on the “focus” list.

As an example, Bonifay noted that the difference of BHS’s best-performing graduation rate and worst performing graduation rate is 53.6 percent. Similar gaps for nearby schools include Early County High (62.9 percent), Cairo High (60.5 percent), Pelham High (56.7 percent) and Thomasville High (62.5 percent). However, none of those schools were named to the “focus” schools list because they do not have at least 30 students with disabilities.

Focus schools will carry the designation for three years, and will get extra state funding to help them close the achievement gaps. Some of that funding may be used to offer tutoring for students and professional development for teachers. More details will be released by the state Board of Education in June.

“We do know that we will be getting some additional funding from being named to the focus list, and that can be a good thing,” Bonifay said. “We’ll take any help that we can get from the state, and work to implement any programs they recommend. It’s all about our mission of making sure every student succeeds.”