Seven schools in the Muscogee County School District -- the same number on the original list three years ago -- are among the 246 in Georgia considered as the state's worst performing Title I schools.
Those MCSD schools designated this year by the Georgia Department of Education are Jordan and Spencer high schools, Baker Middle School and Davis, Georgetown, Martin Luther King Jr. and Rigdon Road elementary schools. Jordan, Spencer and MLK Jr. are repeats from 2012. Kendrick High School, Rothschild Leadership Academy and Fox Elementary School improved enough to drop off the list from 2012, and Cusseta Road Elementary School was closed.
A school is eligible to receive federal money under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 if at least 40 percent of its students come from low-income families, defined by the U.S. Census Bureau through a complex formula with 48 factors. For example, the 2015 poverty threshold for a family of four is $24,250 in household income.
Georgia has 2,267 total public schools, and approximately 1,650 of them (73 percent) are Title I schools.
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As part of its waiver from the ESEA, the state's education department identifies Title I schools showing the greatest need for additional support. They are listed in two categories:
Priority Schools are among the lowest 5 percent of the state's Title I schools in academic achievement.
Focus Schools are among the lowest 10 percent of the state's Title I schools in achievement gap, the difference between the school's bottom quartile of students and the state average and the degree to which that gap is closing.
Jordan and Spencer are 2015 Priority Schools. Baker, Davis, Georgetown, MLK Jr. and Rigdon Road are 2015 Focus Schools.
When the education department released the original lists of worst-performing Title I schools in 2012, MCSD had five Priority Schools (Jordan, Kendrick and Spencer high schools and Cusseta Road and Fox elementary schools) and two Focus Schools (Rothschild Leadership Academy and MLK Jr.). This is the first time the lists have been updated since then.
In a news release Thursday, MCSD superintendent David Lewis praised the “hard work and dedication” of Fox, Rothschild and Kendrick for being removed from the list and the improvement at Baker and Jordan. Baker moved from Priority to Focus, and although Jordan still is on Priority, it earned the highest College and Career Ready Performance Index score (76.2) of any School Improvement Grant school in the state, Lewis noted.
Rothschild principal Michael Forte said in MCSD’s news release, “We are excited about our progress and must build on the momentum to ensure that all students continue to come to school excited to learn daily and exemplify the attributes of true leaders. We have proven that if we work together, we can continue to improve academics. Our teachers, our parents, our staff, and our administrators go above and beyond to help provide the vital support to reinforce positive expectations and we will continue to take advantage of every opportunity to help our students excel at every level.”
Lewis also noted the Priority and Focus schools were determined without using data from the 2014-15 school year, which the state hasn’t released yet.
“While trend data reveals the longstanding challenges these schools have faced,” Lewis said in the news release, “we will address them head-on to ensure that our district achieves the high standards we have established.”
Lewis mentioned the following ways MCSD is trying to help those schools: In advance of the 2014-15 school year, implemented new reading and math curriculum frameworks and reorganized the district’s administration into three regional zones “to help provide more focused instructional and operational support to schools.
“ Given the necessary time, structure, resources and support we are confident that these school communities and their leadership will meet our commitment to a high quality education that all students deserve.”
State superintendent Richard Woods said in a news release Wednesday, "Identifying Priority and Focus schools allows us to offer targeted assistance where it is needed most. The GaDOE will work with the schools identified to ensure they have the resources they need to provide a quality education for their students."
Meghan Frick, a communications and outreach specialist for the education department, explained in an email Thursday to the Ledger-Enquirer what that targeted assistance entails.
"They'll work for three years with a School and District Effectiveness Specialist - GaDOE provides School and District Effectiveness Specialists to support Priority Schools; RESAs (Regional Education Service Agencies) provide School Effectiveness Specialists to support Focus Schools through federal funding that comes through GaDOE. Those specialists work with the school & district leaders to identify areas for improvement and then execute those changes. Priority and Focus Schools also receive additional federal funds and professional learning for leaders and teachers."
Asked what the ramifications are for schools that remained on the Priority or Focus lists from 2012 to 2015, Frick wrote, "It's really a matter of support and working with those schools to improve, not consequences. They'll continue to receive additional supports from GaDOE for another three years."
In 2012, Georgia had 80 Priority Schools and 159 Focus Schools. In 2015, Georgia has 81 Priority Schools and 165 Focus Schools. No schools from Harris or Chattahoochee counties are on those lists for either year. Harris County's Title I schools are Park Elementary and Carver Middle, which was added for the 2015-16 school year while Creekside Elementary dropped off. Chattahoochee County's Title I schools are its elementary and middle schools.
The education department described its five-step process to identify the 2015 Priority Schools:
Calculate for all schools a three-year average of performance on the content mastery category of the CCRPI, based on results from the state's standardized tests.
Rank the schools based on that three-year average.
Determine the lowest 5 percent of Title I schools.
Include high schools with a four-year cohort graduation rate of less than 60 percent in 2013 and 2014.
Re-identify the 2012 Priority Schools that didn't meet the criteria for exiting the list, which includes an increase of 5 percentage points in content mastery or having a four-year cohort graduation rate of at least 60 percent in the most recent year and prior year.
The education department also described its four-step process to identify the 2015 Focus Schools:
Calculate for all schools a three-year average of the CCRPI achievement gap score.
Rank the schools based on that three-year average.
Determine the lowest 10 percent of Title I schools.
Re-identify the 2012 Focus Schools that didn't meet the criteria for exiting the list, which includes an increase of 2.5 percentage points in the three-year average CCRPI achievement gap score.
Jordan and Spencer continuing to be Priority Schools is curious. They were among the five MCSD schools honored two months ago as 2015 U.S. News & World Report Best High Schools. Columbus High was one of Georgia's 19 high schools to earn a gold medal from the magazine; Early College Academy and Jordan, Spencer and Kendrick high schools were among the state's 69 bronze medalists.
Part of the assessment conflict is lagging data. Between 2013 and 2014, Spencer improved its graduation rate from 54.6 percent to 66.0 percent, Jordan improved from 56.1 to 63.1, MCSD's average improved from 72.8 to 76.6, and the state's average improved from 71.8 to 72.5, but 2015 data hasn't been released yet.
Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow him on Twitter@MarkRiceLE.