Understanding Adequate Yearly Progress and what determines it isn't easy. In the years that have followed the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, each state has devised its own testing system and guidelines for holding school districts accountable for student performance.
In May, the Georgia Department of Education applied for and was approved to use a new differentiated accountability plan under NCLB. The plan sets up direct involvement between the state education department and individual schools within the state directed status category.
While the state had originally asked the U.S. Department of Education for the plan to go into effect for the 2009-2010 school year, the federal government required the plan to begin immediately. As a result, one Newton County school will see immediate changes.
The state released its preliminary AYP report last week and nine Newton County schools did not meet AYP. Three schools, Middle Ridge Elementary and Porterdale Elementary as well as Clements Middle remained on the needs improvement list. Middle Ridge, which made AYP last year, did not make it this year, thus remaining on the list.
Porterdale made AYP, but it takes two consecutive years to be removed from the needs improvement list. Porterdale had been on the list based on AYP from the previous two years. Clements, on the other hand, did not make AYP for the sixth consecutive year. As a result, Clements is now under state-directed (NI-5) status.
For both the Newton County School System and the GDOE, the procedure for handling a school in NI-5 status is an unknown. This year, the state will put its new accountability plan into action with little more than a sketch on paper.
According to the GDOE, the first step in the state-directed status process is for the state to send representatives to each NI-5 school and do a Georgia Assessment of Performance on School Standards (GAPSS) analysis to determine what the needs of the school are before moving forward with a corrective plan.
Once the GAPSS analysis is complete, the GDOE will enter into a contract with the NI-5 school. Up until this year, the GDOE required districts with state-directed schools to send home notices to parents describing the school's status and how the determination was made, develop a school improvement plan, offer public school choice as well as supplemental educational services to any student that not did meet standards on the state's tests.
With the state's new differentiated accountability plan, the GDOE now places a state director in each state-directed school. The two parties will carry out the plan with a state director assigned to each school on a full-time basis and the school will be subject to a GAPSS review.
GDOE Director of Communications Dana Tofig says the GAPSS analysis is important because the state doesn't look to reinvent the wheel.
"We do the GAPSS analysis to find out what the schools' problem areas are so we can come up with a plan that will target those areas," Tofig said. "If a school is weak in math but did great in reading, there is no reason for us to concentrate any efforts on reading."
Contrary to what many people might think, the state does not take over a state-directed school. Tofig says the rumor mongering that he hears often is nothing more than a misconception.
"Our role and our desire is to be a resource," Tofig said. "Our goal is not to take over a school. That just isn't the case. The principals still run the schools."
Newton County Board of Education member C.C. Bates, who is a literacy consultant who speaks to school systems throughout the country, welcomes the state's presence.
"If they are willing to send someone who can help, I am all for it," Bates said. "We need someone to open up the doors and look at things and say 'hey, we need to do this.' Maybe they will have some good ideas that will help us."
No Child Left Behind has forced school districts and state education systems to implement rigorous testing policies. But, many wonder if the testing takes away from the overall education experience.
"Sometimes people setting the regulations at the federal level are out of touch and don't know what it takes for all kids to not only meet, but exceed standards," Bates said.
A controversial tenet of NCLB and AYP is the existence of subgroups. Students are placed into subgroups based on race, economic standing and even ability. To meet AYP, 95 percent of students in each subgroup must take either a state's high school graduation test or the Criterion Referenced Competency Tests, pass the exams in accordance with the state's Annual Measurable Objectives and must meet the standard or show progress in graduation (for high schools) or attendance (elementary and middle schools).
Each state comes up with a plan, which they submit to the U.S. Department of Education. But like state governments, what is set for Georgia is not what students and teachers follow in Florida - or any other state.
"If we are going to take a look at where we are nationally, let's get everyone on the same testing system," Bates suggests. "I'm not making excuses. We have a lot of work to do. But sometimes I think the mandates are unrealistic."
Testing will continue as long as NCLB is left untouched. Both Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama and Republican candidate Sen. John McCain, who originally voted against fully funding the act, have said they will look into the merits of the existing policy.
In 2007, Obama said he would support teachers and redesign standardized tests to support learning rather than as a yard-stick by which to punish teachers.
As recently as July, McCain's senior adviser Carly Fiorina said the senator also plans to look into reworking the policy.
"He believes that No Child Left Behind was an imperfect piece of legislation," Fiorina said in an interview with the Huffington Post. "Nevertheless, there are things about it that have worked. We need to learn the lessons, fix the problems, fully fund it, and continue to focus on the education of our children as well as the education and training of our displaced workers."
While a new look at the country's education policy is inevitable, change will have to wait until the new president is elected in November. Until then, the GDOE will work with the county in solving Clements' and similar state-directed school's shortfalls so that each school makes AYP next year.
"This is new for us too," Tofig said. "We are going to work closely with the schools through the process until we get where we need to be."