July 30, 2008
9,500 Bibb County Students Eligible for Transfer
By Julie Hubbard, The Macon Telegraph, Ga.
Jul. 30--About 9,500 Bibb County public school students in 12 underperforming schools will have the option to transfer to a higher performing school in the district this fall.
The number of students -- more than a third of the school system's total -- breaks a record. Last school year, 4,954 students were eligible for transfers, although just 280 students actually used the option.
Still, it means that hundreds of students could switch schools just as a new school year is beginning, and some students could gain access to a new high school that's opening in north Macon.
"This is the problem of the unpredictability of seeing the results this late," Bibb County school Superintendent Sharon Patterson said. "We got official notification from the state Friday, so we're working now to provide notification and make parents aware."
Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, each state's schools are held accountable each year for whether they made Adequate Yearly Progress. To meet AYP, a school must have enough student groups -- including black students, poor students and students with disabilities -- that pass state reading and math exams, as well as have high enough attendance and graduation rates.
The sanctions for schools that miss AYP include offering students private tutoring, transfers and, in worst-case scenarios, state oversight.
School officials blamed this year's shortcomings on a new, harder math curriculum and more students failing the newly aligned state math exams.
"We expected a dip," Val Cordy, the system's director of special programs, said. "Any time they change the curriculum, there is a slight decrease in the number of schools making AYP, but not of this magnitude."
Students did not have enough time to adjust to the harder math curriculum, Patterson said.
"Again, this belies the fact that there are students in schools that are meeting the standards," she said. "It's 60 questions on one test."
Students attending Bruce, Ingram-Pye and King-Danforth elementary schools, Appling, Rutland, Weaver and Howard middle schools; and Hutchings Career Center, Northeast, Southwest, Rutland and Westside high schools are eligible for school choice transfers this fall.
The school system has sent letters to parents with children in those schools, and beginning next week students can apply for a transfer at their home school. The deadline is Sept. 4. If students remain at their home school, they can sign up for tutoring.
Antonio Simmons, whose stepson Joseph Washington attends Southwest, said his family will consider a transfer.
"(Southwest) is closer to home," Simmons said. "We may send him over to Central or the new high school."
Not all eligible students will be provided transportation if they transfer, however. Howard Middle, Rutland High and Westside High students will have to provide their own ride to another school if they want to leave.
This year, 41 Bibb schools were measured on whether they met No Child Left Behind goals. Fourteen of them met AYP, and 27 did not. Of the 27 schools that missed, 26 didn't have enough students passing state math exams.
Schools failed to make AYP for a variety of reasons. Elementary and middle schools needed 59.5 percent of their students to pass the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test in math to meet AYP, for example. High schools needed 74.9 percent of students to pass math on the Georgia High School Graduation Test.
At Ingram-Pye Elementary, just 20.6 percent of the student body passed the math exam. At Burke Elementary, it was 30.5 percent. At Bloomfield Middle, 32.1 percent and at Bruce Elementary, just 34.8 percent passed math.
Those were the lowest elementary and middle school scores in the system.
"We need something intensive there," Cordy said. "We're meeting with principals in those schools to outline strategies for intensive support."
Northeast High had the lowest math high school scores, with just 43.8 percent of students passing math, well short of the 74.9 percent state goal.
High school students in schools that did not meet AYP can transfer to Central and the new Howard High School, which opens this fall. There may be limits, though, such as transfers involving Title 1 schools -- those that get federal support because they have a high percentage of poor students.
Students who leave a Title I school can transfer to a higher performing school even if that school is over capacity. But students attending a more affluent school can only transfer to a school that is below capacity, Cordy said.
Howard High principal Karen Yarbrough said she didn't know how the transfers will affect Howard's opening.
"We may have more than the expected 650," she said. "We'll do whatever we have to do to ensure the highest quality education."
Burke Elementary and Bloomfield Middle chose to offer tutoring, since both of them are first year "needs improvement" schools and can choose to offer either tutoring or transfers. Economically disadvantaged students who failed state exams are given priority.
Because of new state flexibility granted by the U.S. Department of Education, 13 Bibb schools that are not in "needs improvement" status and missed AYP this year may be allowed to count summer school retests in September when scores are recalculated, and they could end up making AYP after all.
Although, historically, a low percentage of students actually use the school transfer option, it still causes school officials concern about unpredictable enrollment -- and staffing.
In 2006, 189 students used a school choice transfer, and the number was 154 in 2005.
"I think we've done unfair things to children, and this is the fallout effect," Patterson said. "It has nothing to do with the quality of what's happening in the schools."
To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.
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