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Request pleases schools
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Dawson County education officials say they are pleased with a Georgia's waiver request sent earlier this month to the U.S. Department of Education.

State School Superintendent John Barge and Sen. Johnny Isakson are seeking changes to the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Instead of basing school assessment on a single test score, they want Georgia to use a variety of statistics, including college and career readiness, test scores, graduation rates and attendance.

"I am extremely pleased that [Barge and Isakson] share our belief that the measures used to determine adequate yearly progress must be more diverse than is presently required," said Dawson County Superintendent Keith Porter.

"The performance index that is being proposed moves our state away from the single measure test score ... and I think that it will prove to be more accurate and certainly a more balanced criteria for our students."

Based on results released in July, Dawson County as a system did not meet the requirements for adequate yearly progress, or AYP.

That came despite 85.3 percent of the system's 1,529 students meeting or exceeding requirements in math and 94.3 percent in reading/language arts.

AYP, the measure put in place by No Child Left Behind, is determined by results of the Criterion-Reference Competency Test.

After retests, Porter said the indications are the system may end up achieving the goal for the 2010-11 school year after all.

"We're still waiting on confirmation from the state, but so far it looks like we will make AYP," Porter said.

The system as a whole initially failed to meet the requirements due to a small number in the "students with disabilities" subgroup who did not score high enough on a systemwide scale.

Dawson County High, which had the highest graduation rate in the school's history this year, failed to meet AYP, leaving Principal Dr. Jute Wilson frustrated.

"To achieve record performances in areas, only to be labeled a ‘failure' for not meeting AYP standards is quite frustrating," Wilson said. "It doesn't give a clear picture of what is really happening inside the building."

The system overall was one of 152 in the state that did not make the initial requirement, despite four of the seven local schools making a passing grade.

The proposal made by Barge and Isakson to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Sept. 20 would attempt to prevent a subgroup from tripping up a school or system.

Instead, AYP would be measured according to the new Georgia College and Career Ready Performance Index.

The index would weigh the extent to which a school and the state are successfully making progress on a specific list of indicators, according to the waiver.

Rick Brown, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for Dawson County, supports the move away from the single-test measurement.

"These proposed changes should allow school systems, as well as families, to reflect on student's academic achievement along with readiness for a career," Brown said.

"It is very encouraging to know that our elected decision-makers share our concern for the manner in which we are presently judged," Porter said.

"We look forward to reacting to the changes in our system and school improvement plans."

The index came about as a result of Georgia House Bills 400, signed into law in 2010 and 186, signed into law this year.

HB 400 created the BRIDGE program for career exploration and development in schools, while HB 186 transitions schools to a more career-prep and rigorous college-prep curriculum.

According to the request by Barge and Isakson, this will allow students to get high school and college credit in a variety of new ways.

Those include dual enrollment, apprenticeships, industry certifications and Career, Technical and Agricultural Education classes.

The state awaits word on the waiver request. If all goes as planned, the college and career readiness index could be used to evaluate the 2011-12 school year.

In the meantime, Wilson is staying focused on his students.

"Regardless of the changes they make and what they assess, the faculty and staff of Dawson County High will remain focused on providing a quality education to all students," Wilson said.