After the release earlier this month by the Georgia Department of Education of the results on Adequate Yearly Progress, three Newton County Schools must now provide the option of school choice because one sub-group of students at each of the schools did not meet or exceed standards on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests given in the spring.
Porterdale and Middle Ridge elementary schools and Clements Middle School must offer parents the choice to transfer their child to one of two schools the system designates.
NCSS Director of Support Services Tab Bell said as of noon Tuesday his office had received almost 200 calls, e-mails or walk-ins about school choice.
The state measures AYP by reviewing CRCT scores and either attendance or graduation rates. Students are placed into sub-groups based on race, disability, English as a second language or economic disadvantage.
Students in all the sub-groups must meet or exceed standards for a school to pass AYP. At all three of the Newton County Schools falling short, not enough students in the disabilities sub-group met or exceeded standards - causing the school to not meet AYP.
"We've got to remember that the measure for meeting AYP is in AMO - annual measurable objectives - in reading and math only," said NCSS Superintendent Steven Whatley.
The 2000 No Child Left Behind Act mandates that all students must perform at grade level in reading and math by 2014. AMO gradually increases every three years until the NCLB deadline.
Some educators, parents and politicians have criticized the deadline, saying special needs and economically disadvantaged students and English language learners should not be held to the same standards as normal education students with no economic disadvantage.
Although Oak Hill Elementary did not meet AYP this year for the same reasons as the other schools, they must only offer school choice after they fail to meet AYP for two consecutive years.
Middle Ridge did not meet AYP last year, so school choice had to be offered. The school did meet AYP this year, but must still offer school choice until it logs two consecutive years of meeting AYP.
Parents of students at Porterdale may choose to transfer their children to either Ficquett or Livingston Elementaries; at Middle Ridge to either East Newton or Heard-Mixon Elementaries; and at Clements to either Cousins or Indian Creek Middle Schools.
The system must also provide these students with transportation to the transfer schools. Bell said transportation can not be provided to transferring students until Aug. 20 - almost a month after the first day of school.
This has upset some parents such as Michael Parker, who spoke with the Board of Education during Tuesday night's meeting.
Parker's daughter falls into the students with disabilities category. She previously attended Fairview Elementary, where she passed her CRCTs, and was to start sixth grade at Clements Middle this school year.
"At this point I have little confidence in Newton County educators at this school," Parker said.
Parker expressed his opinion that if he pays taxes so that transportation can be provided to Newton County's students, then it should be provided for his daughter.
"Would it be okay if I didn't pay taxes," Parker asked the board.
Bell said they have mailed more than 3,000 letters to parents who have children attending or who will attend the affected schools, and must wait until the application deadline of Aug. 10 to discern bus routes and transfer student records to the new schools.
"We don't have the wisdom to anticipate what parents will ask for choice," Bell said.
Parents must indicate on the application whether they will transport their child to school until Aug. 20, their child will attend home school until Aug. 20 or they will transport their child to the school for the entire school year.
Whatley said the system will explore the possibility of running temporary shuttles from the home school until the new routes are determined.
Board member C.C. Bates said she was concerned that students, especially new sixth graders, might miss some class time if they must ride to one school and then catch another bus to go to their choice school.
"The state directed us that transportation has to occur so that they would not miss any instructional time," said Associate Superintendent for Business and Administration Deborah Robertson.
Whatley said last year the system worked out more direct routes if they could.
He added students new to the system also must be offered school choice if the school in their attendance zone is affected by failing AYP.
The system has already had 500 students enroll for this school year after moving into the county. More are expected before the start of school.
"There's absolutely no way of knowing who will walk in before the first day of school," Whatley said.
As well as a transfer application, parents must sign a form of understanding. The form explains that a transfer lasts until the end of a student's fifth grade year unless the transfer school is listed as needs improvement; if a school is removed from the needs improvement list, parents can re-enroll their child in the school in their attendance zone, but transportation will not be provided for that student; if a family changes their residence to one outside their current attendance area, children must either attend the home school for that attendance area or choice school for the new home school.
Parents can obtain choice applications at the Newton County Board of Education or download them from www.newtoncountyschools.org. The applications should be turned into the office of support services at the Board of Education building on Newton Drive.