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Schools avoid negative labels
Designation as reward still possible
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No Dawson County schools were among the 156 recently identified by the state Department of Education as needing extra attention to address floundering graduation rates and breaks in achievement.

Labeled as "focus" schools, they are one of the three new designations being used by Georgia and other states that received a federal No Child Left Behind waiver in February.

"We are very pleased that our teachers and students have done such a wonderful job that we weren't considered," said Keith Porter, Dawson County School superintendent.

"We didn't anticipate any negative designation because our history indicates that our students do very well when compared with the adequate yearly progress [AYP] report requirements."

And the local schools still have the potential to earn "reward" or "alert" designations, which reflect higher achievement.

"Focus" schools have a graduation rate of less than 60 percent for two straight years and have students who have fared poorly on assessment tests.

These schools represent the 10 percent of schools ranked above "priority," which are the lowest-performing 5 percent of public schools.

While no Dawson schools were designated as "focus," at least two other north Georgia schools, including Gainesville Middle and Hall County's Chicopee Woods, were.

The list of designated "focus" schools was released March 20, a week after the "priority" schools on March 13.

"We are still trying to sort out all of the new designations," Porter said. "This is going to be a learning year for us, as well as the public, but we are hopeful we'll remain highly ranked when compared to other school systems."

"In the future, we will be ranked by the College and Career Ready Performance Index. We are excited that the new requirements will incorporate many broader criteria than we've had previously, which is much fairer to our students."

In the past, under No Child Left Behind, schools were ranked based on standardized testing results being compared to federal Annual Measurable Objectives under AYP.

Now schools will be held up to set performance targets as state school officials implement the CCRPI as Georgia's accountability system next year.

The "reward" designations, which are designed to replace the previous Distinguished Schools classification under Title I, are expected to come out in September.

"Alert" schools, unlike other designations, are unique to Georgia's waiver. They include non-Title I schools and are expected to be announced this month. "Reward" and "alert" schools will be re-identified annually, whereas "priority" and "focus" schools are only re-identified every three years.

The No Child Left Behind waiver, which details these new designations and accountability mandates, was a welcome relief to many state schools struggling to meet ever-increasing standards of the federal law.

Phrases such as "needs improvement" and "adequate yearly progress" will no longer be used.