CONYERS -- Rockdale County's three public high schools have been included on a list of 156 schools in the state labeled as "focus" schools under the state's new accountability system.
Focus schools are one step above the state's worst-performing schools -- called "priority" schools -- which were released last week. The "focus" schools are Title I schools with a graduation rate of less than 60 percent over two years or that have large gaps between the highest and lowest achieving subgroup of students on campus.
Rockdale's three high schools -- Rockdale, Heritage and Salem -- were named to the list based on gaps in graduation rates among students with disabilities receiving regular diplomas and graduation rates among the highest-performing students. The school system's overall graduation rate is 86 percent.
Other designations for school performance under the state's new accountability standards are "alert" schools and "reward" schools. All designations will be handed out by the fall. The designations identify schools that will receive assistance and support for improvement.
Cindy Ball, director of Community Relations for the Rockdale school system, said Rockdale has improved its graduation rate for students with disabilities receiving regular diplomas at a rate greater than the state's over the past five years.
"It is important to note that RCPS has consistently improved its SWD regular diploma rate over the last five years," Ball wrote in a statement. "During the span of School Year 2007 to School Year 2011, RCPS improved its SWD regular diploma graduation rate 14.6 percent points. In comparison, the state average level of growth in the same time period demonstrates a 10.4 percent point growth trajectory."
Superintendent Samuel King said the school system will continue to work to improve achievement gaps.
"Although we have seen consistent improvement over the past five years, we take all achievement gaps seriously and must continue to close the gap in graduation rate between our SWD subgroup receiving regular diplomas and the highest subgroup graduation rate at each high school," King said in a statement. "We look forward to learning more about the support and interventions from the waiver requirements, which will help us achieve this goal."
Georgia falls under the new accountability system based on a waiver it received in February freeing the state's public schools from requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act. Nine other states also received waivers.
Since 2001, under the federal NCLB act, schools and school systems across the nation have been required to meet a certain set of standards based on scores, attendance and participation in order to meet AYP requirements. Georgia previously used the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests and the Georgia High School Graduation Tests, as well as other collected data like elementary school absenteeism and a high school's graduation rate as the basis for its AYP standards.
Schools were measured as a whole and divided by subgroups like ethnicities, students with disabilities and economically disadvantaged.
Each year, the standards were raised. By 2014, the act would have required that all students must be proficient in reading and math.
Now, the states excused from the law no longer have to meet that deadline. Instead, they will have to put forth plans showing they will prepare children for college and careers, set new targets for improving achievement among all students, reward the best performing schools and focus help on the ones doing the worst.