AYP is the formula used to determine if schools are meeting expectations under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Statewide, more than 71 percent of Georgia's public schools made AYP, a drop from the previous year's 79 percent rate.
State education officials attribute the dropoff to an increase in the academic bar in math that students in elementary and middle school must meet in order for a school to make AYP. The graduation rate that high schools must meet also increased this year to 80 percent.
Thirteen of Bartow County's 19 schools made AYP -- all 12 of its elementary schools and South Central Middle. The six not meeting standards were the middle and high schools of Adairsville, Cass and Woodland.
The district fared better last year, when 17 of its schools made AYP -- only Cass and Woodland high schools were absent from that list. Those two high schools' second consecutive year of not making AYP puts them in the "Needs Improvement" status, which requires them to offer either public school choice or supplemental education services.
The typical factor that led to the county's six secondary schools not making AYP were the performance of one subgroup of students at each school level -- students with disabilities at the middle schools and economically disadvantaged pupils at the high schools.
All students and any qualifying subgroup of students must meet achievement goals. Student subgroups include white, Hispanic, black students and other racial subgroups; as well as students with disabilities and economically disadvantaged students. Schools that have too few students in a subgroup do not have the subgroup's scores factored into the AYP calculations.
John Barge, director of Secondary Curriculum for the district, said the subgroups lead to "almost a numbers game," since one student in a subgroup can keep a school from achieving AYP.
"We are very confident that Woodland [High] will actually make [AYP] on the retest because they were missing it by one student in math in the economically disadvantaged [subgroup]," Barge said. "That's the whole insanity of No Child Left Behind -- that you can have one student out of 1,800 that would label the entire school as 'Needs Improvement.' That's silly."
Barge said the district plans to file appeals regarding the AYP statuses of Adairsville middle and high. Adairsville Middle missed AYP by one student, while Adairsville High had an issue with test participation, Barge said, as some of the school's third-year students didn't have enough credits to take the graduation exam.
AYP consists of three parts -- test participation, academic achievement and another statistic, called a "second indicator." The academic goals continue to rise every few years toward a goal of 100 percent proficiency for all students by 2014. This year, the academic goal for grades 3-8 increased in mathematics and the graduation rate bar went up.
High schools must meet state-set goals on the Georgia High School Graduation Tests to meet the academic achievement component of AYP; the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests are used to measure achievement in elementary and middle schools.
Cartersville also showed a decline from the previous year's results. Only Cartersville High was unable to make AYP last year; this year, Cartersville Elementary as well as the high school were not able to make the mark. The system's middle and primary schools made AYP.
Cartersville Elementary's students with disabilities subgroup's performance on the CRCTs kept the school from making AYP. At the high school, it was economically disadvantaged students on the GHSGTs and black students on the GHSGT math portion; the latter group would have made AYP under the "Safe Harbor" benchmark had those students shown a higher graduation rate.
Peggy Cowan, Cartersville's director of Curriculum and Professional Learning, said two issues impacted Cartersville High's academic results at the high school. Both factors, she added, also are affecting districts across the state.
The first issue, Cowan said, is the two different score requirements on the GHSGTs. While students must score a 500 to graduate, the benchmark for AYP purposes is 516. She said the score goals will match next year.
"We do not have many kids that are not passing the test for graduation, but we have several students who fall within that 500 to 516, and so they have no desire to come back and retest," Cowan said.
The second issue involves students who are in their third year of high school but may not have been ready for it.
"We have worked diligently with all students ... to ensure that they would pass the graduation test. If you look at our 11th-graders, the first-time test takers in 11th grade, they did pass it. However, what the state did in May is they came back and said, 'We're counting any 10th-graders that you allowed to take the test,'" Cowan said. "We didn't know they were going to count those students, as well as most of the high schools across the state. We just let them take it even though they were 10th-graders, they were second-year 10th-graders, because we thought, 'Well, this gives them one time to practice taking the test.' All of those students counted against us.
"As a 10th-grader, these kids had not had some of the coursework they needed in order to successfully take the High School Graduation Test, so it wasn't necessarily realistic to think that they would pass it, and we were trying to give them an extra time to take it so they would have potentially five or more times to take it before graduation," she added.
Despite only two of the district's four schools achieving AYP, Cowan said the system's results had bright spots in other areas.
"When you look at our scores, from elementary all the way up, our scores are very high. We have a high percentage of students who are passing, and we're excited about it. And in many cases, our scores went up in many of the subgroups," she said. "We'll make AYP at the high school next year, because we have implemented programs, strategies and monitoring that worked this year, and our scores jumped considerably as a result of them."
Bartow and Cartersville were not the only districts to have its high schools not make AYP -- two thirds of the state's high schools were unable to reach the AYP plateau.
The percentage of schools making AYP could increase when the final AYP report is released this fall. That report will include summer retest scores, summer graduates and appeals.
Barge said Bartow officials are working now to improve next year's results.
"They're writing their School Improvement Plans for next year, and those improvement plans are written and based on performance data, so each school has its own plan that they're working from to address students with disabilities and economically disadvantaged students," he said.
Despite his district's graduation test difficulties, Barge said a bright spot for them was the rise in the graduation rate.
Cartersville High reported an initial graduation rate of 78.3 percent, compared to the final rate of 84.3 percent in 2009. As a district, Bartow County Schools' three high schools had a combined graduation rate of 81.6 percent, a more than 5 percent increase over the system's 2009 rate of 76.4 percent.
"When a student goes off to apply for a job, they're not going to be asked about their Georgia High School Graduation Test scores -- they're going to be asked if they have a diploma," Barge said. "For me, for us to be graduating more than eight out of 10 students, that's success, because those kids have a credential that can get them to the next level.
"What the graduation rate tells us that the ones who don't pass [the GHSGT] and while we don't make AYP, we get them back and eventually we get them through and we get them graduated on time, so we can remediate those and get them through the test and get them graduated -- they just might not pass it the first time."
The Daily Tribune News will have further coverage of the graduation rate issue in the coming days.