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School system misses AYP as four of seven schools make the grade

The numbers are so small, but their significance is so powerful. Reports released by the state Tuesday afternoon revealed three of the seven McDuffie County Schools - and thus the system as a whole - did not make Adequate Yearly Progress.

It marks the fourth year that Thomson High School did not make the grade.

"I don't want the public to think the school's not doing their job, because that's not the case," THS Assistant Principal Lynn Cato said. "It's very frustrating because we keep putting in more and more interventions, but we're still not making it."

Ms. Cato said not only do they offer after-school tutoring, extended semester and evening classes, but the social workers and secretaries make personal phone calls to the students to invite them in to take these refresher courses. They also call the ones who don't show up on test days and make sure they come in to take the tests as required.

The high school missed the mark in academic performance in math and English/language arts for students in two subgroups: blacks and economically disadvantaged. They didn't make AYP status, even though the graduation rate for those same students increased 25 percentage points in the past five years.

To graduate, the students have to score a 500 on the math graduation test. But to make AYP, they have to score a 516. Ms. Cato said there are a handful of students who scored well enough to graduate, but not well enough to make AYP.

"Only eight in this entire building failed that test, and I find it baffling that we can't make AYP, it just doesn't make sense," she said.

Assistant Superintendent Barry O'Neill said many systems across the state are facing the same predicament. Many systems - including McDuffie County - offered those particular students incentives, such as gift cards, if they'd attend refresher courses and take the test again, even though they scored well enough the first time to graduate.

In McDuffie County, the retakes were given Tuesday, but the results won't be released until October, Ms. Cato said. No matter the results, it still won't be enough to help the system as a whole.

This is the first year in McDuffie County that an elementary school did not make AYP. Norris Elementary and Thomson Middle schools also did not make the grade, but under a different subgroup - students with disabilities

Dr. O'Neill said that data research previously showed they were weak in those areas, so the school system has already hired a math coach, math specialist and a reading specialist for those schools, using Title 1 stimulus funds.

"So we'll be able to work more with those students with disabilities, and we plan to do more co-teaching with them next year," he said.

Even though it's their fourth year, the high school's Needs Improvement status is only classified at a level two, according to the state's website. Level two means the school must offer supplemental teaching services or school choice. Ms. Cato said this could be a problem because the parents would be responsible for providing the transportation to another school or to those services, of which Thomson has none.

AYP is the formula used to determine if schools are meeting expectations under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. It 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, according to the state education department's website.All students at a school, as well as any qualifying subgroup of students, must meet goals in all three categories in order to "make AYP." Schools that do not make AYP for two consecutive years in the same subject are placed in "Needs Improvement" status.

But McDuffie County does have two reasons to be proud - two of the schools made the GDOE's press release's front page as two of 31 in the state to have made AYP ever since the program began 11 years ago. Those two schools are Maxwell Elementary and Thomson Elementary.

As a system not making AYP, McDuffie County was not alone. Five of the eight neighboring counties also did not make AYP, including Columbia, Glascock, Lincoln, Richmond and Warren.

School by school

Dearing Elementary School

Met - Eight consecutive years

Maxwell Elementary School

Met - 11 consecutive years

Norris Elementary School

Did not meet

Thomson Elementary School

Met - 11 consecutive years

Thomson High School

Did not meet

Thomson-McDuffie Junior High

Met - One consecutive year

Thomson Middle School

Did not meet

Web posted on Thursday, July 16, 2009

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