Georgia’s new rating system for school climate. Anyone else puzzled?

I talked to Matt Cardoza at the state Department of Education twice today about the new school climate ratings.

I’m wondering about the value of these brand new ratings and whether they benefit parents.

No hedA parent of two young kids himself, Cardoza thought parents would be very interested in a rating that incorporates a school‘s student disciplinary data, the percentage of students who miss 10 or more days of school a year and student surveys on drug use, bullying and their thoughts about how dangerous their school is. Also considered are parent and teacher surveys and staff attendance.

But after looking at my district, Decatur City Schools, and DeKalb, it’s hard to reconcile some of the ratings.

For example, Decatur High earned three stars, putting it in the average range for school climate. But Decatur’s 4th and 5th grade academy — Fifth Avenue Elementary — only earned two stars, meaning it fell “below satisfactory.”

Yet, both the high school and the 4/5 academy have strong academic ratings on the state’s 100-point scale College and Career Ready Performance Index.

The average high school in Georgia earned a grade this year of 68. Decatur High earned an 87.1. The average elementary school earned a 72.7;  Fifth Avenue has an 87.9.

I was also puzzled by some DeKalb results. For example, the DeKalb Alternative School earned the top rating of five stars/Excellent for school climate, while Chamblee Charter High School earned three stars.

Yet, on the state’s academic rankings DeKalb Alternative earned a grade of 33.9 on a scale of 100, while Chamblee posted a grade of 79.8, well above the state average of 68.

Then, I looked at the school attendance data for the two high schools. DeKalb Alternative School has an average daily student attendance of 67.7 percent, while Chamblee has an average daily student attendance of 95.2 percent.

You would expect the school climate grade to relate more to the academic ranking and attendance.

I asked Cardoza to walk me through the ratings for these schools. Let’s start with Decatur’s Fifth Avenue School as a case study on how a high-achieving school earned a dismal 2 stars for school climate:

Parents at Decatur’s Fifth Avenue who completed the school climate survey expressed enough concerns the school only earned 74.4 points out of 100 on the parent portion, said Cardoza.

Then, there was a disparity in how teachers viewed school climate; teachers saw climate in a better light than parents, earning Fifth Avenue 84.4 points out of 100.

So, the Decatur school had a 10-point difference in parent vs. teacher perceptions of climate, which may not seem gaping but leads to a very low score on what the state calls “schoolwide agreement.”

For schoolwide agreement, Fifth Avenue earned 42.5 points, lowering the overall school climate score to 67.

Too few students filled out the climate survey – you have to have at least 75 percent – so Fifth Avenue earned no points there. This year, schools were not dinged for low participation on the surveys. Next year they will be.

Fifth Avenue did well in the categories of being drug-free and having little bullying, but lost ground in “violent-free” incidents, which Cardoza said included “disorderly conduct and fighting.”

Now back to DeKalb Alternative. How, I asked DOE, did an alternative high school with low academic performance and daily average attendance of only 67 percent earn five stars for school climate?

DeKalb Alternative School benefited by the reprieve on penalties for low participation in the student, parent and teacher surveys. It did not meet the threshold for student or teacher responses.

If schools have the low participation rates next year on the required surveys, their scores will fall, said Cardoza.

Even though DeKalb Alternative had poor student attendance, it reported high teacher, administrator and staff attendance, said Cardoza. (While we have to encourage teacher and staff attendance, what does it ultimately matter to achievement when a third of the students fail to show up on a daily basis, as is the case with DeKalb Alternative?)

DeKalb Alternative also reported little drugs, fighting or bullying.

Incidents of fighting, drugs and bullying are reported by the schools to their districts and are not verified by DOE.

It is worth noting DeKalb — a system perceived by the Legislature to be full of unhappy students, parents and teachers and in need of intervention — did well on these new DOE school climate ratings. Keep in mind these ratings draw heavily on the parent, teacher and student satisfaction surveys.

Twenty-seven DeKalb’s schools earned the top five-star rating. The district is up there with Forsyth, which had 23 five-star schools, and Gwinnett, which had 20. Both Gwinnett and Forsyth are recognized as highly successful districts.

I wonder about the validity of the student surveys used to inform these ratings. Are students in schools with strong or frequent bullying prevention programs more likely to report bullying and harassment because they hear about it more often?

If you want to know more, take a look at this DOE PowerPoint.

Here is what DOE had to say officially about the ratings:

The Georgia Department of Education today released its first School Climate Star Ratings. The 2014 ratings are based on survey results and data from the 2013-2014 school year.

School climate refers to the quality and character of school life – the “culture” of a school. A sustainable, positive school climate fosters youth development and student learning, which are essential elements for academic success, career-skill improvement and overall quality of life. The School Climate Star Rating helps determine whether a school is on the right path to school improvement.

“Research has shown us that school climate has a strong impact on student achievement,” State School Superintendent Richard Woods said. “The data used to develop the 2014 Star Ratings proves this once again. If your school has a positive climate, it’s giving students the environment they need to learn. You’ll likely see high achievement there – or a school that’s on the right track toward high achievement.”

Each school in Georgia received a 1-5 star ratings, with five stars representing an excellent school climate, and one star representing a school climate most in need of improvement. School Climate Star Ratings are an informational tool for schools, administrators, and parents; they do not affect the school’s College & Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) score.

Interpretations of the star ratings are below; this information can also be found in the School Climate Law.

‘5-star’ schools ranked excellent according to the school climate index;

‘4-star’ schools ranked above average according to the school climate index;

‘3-star’ schools ranked average according to the school climate index;

‘2-star’ schools ranked below satisfactory according to the school climate index, or

‘1-star’ schools ranked unsatisfactory according to the school climate index.

School Climate Star Ratings are required by law; they also serve as a companion to the Department of Early Care and Learning’s Quality Rated program, which includes an assessment of the learning environment.

“Students cannot learn in environments that do not support them,” Superintendent Woods said. “Georgia is committed to measuring the quality of its learning climates, and this aligned approach helps us assess that quality from preschool all the way through 12th grade.”

 

 

Reader Comments 0

77 comments
GiGi Sands
GiGi Sands

Is there district level funding to support schools with less than satisfactory ratings to implement intervention strategies to address identified challenges?

heyjdave
heyjdave

it is my experience that school administrators suspend students and simply do not report the suspensions because it adversely affects ratings. It is understood within the school's culture and throughout the district that this is the way it is done. My experience was suspend all you want, but don't report it. Was it cheating? I think so. If you complained about this or didn't comply, you were easily replaced. There are lots of teachers desperate to get out of the classroom and being an administrator is their only option. By not creating waves, you keep your job. I wish I could offer a solution.

eulb
eulb

Did my tax payments help fund this report?  I want my money back.

dsw2contributor
dsw2contributor

Maureen, you said "Twenty-seven DeKalb's schools earned the top five star rating."


There is something really strange about the state DOE's ratings:  the DOE gave full credit to Dekalb schools that did not fully provide data to the DOE!


For example, the "5-Star" rating is partially based upon a survey parents fill out.  For this survey part of the rating, the state DOE gave 100% to one Dekalb school that did *not* even distribute the survey to its parents. Meanwhile, other DCSS schools that did distribute the survey to their parents received ratings based upon how the parents responded.


Basically, the state DOE graded the homework of the schools that turned it in..... while giving 100% to those schools that did NOT do their homework.   (Those schools should have been ZEROES, not 100%!)


In an earlier comment below, "AceptableName" provided another example of this -- low participation (only 15 parents out of 483 students responded) to a survey resulted in a 5 star rating.


I don't know why the DOE figured their "5-Star" ratings this way.  Perhaps there is an error in the Excel macro that they used to calculate the ratings?

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@dsw2contributor I brought up DeKalb Alternative to DOE because it has the exact scenario your cite. DOE told me schools did not lose points this year for the surveys -- next year they will. And in the case of DeKalb Alternative, the school earned five stars on the strength of the other categories. Had schools been penalized this year for lack of survey participation, DeKalb Alternative would have been a 2, according to DOE.

The unclear issue is how each of these categories is weighted.

I agree with the poster who said these ratings are too complex. I also think it is bizarre any school with a failing CCRPI -- another complex grading system -- could earn five stars under any metrics.

BCW1
BCW1

It is sad when educators cannot explain CCRPI to their stakeholders which is the NEW accountability measure. The calculations are so complex that only trained CO personnel can understand it.

RealLurker
RealLurker

I think I would trust ratings from Yelp before some strangely contrived rating system from the state.  And for the record, I don't trust school ratings from Yelp.

readcritic
readcritic

Those who are not educators cannot fathom what goes on behind closed doors. School self-reporting is a farce. Some teachers are subject to schedulers who cram their classrooms full with a mix of 30 to 40 students who have ankle bracelets and/or anger management counselors, are truant, are third-time repeaters, read on a first grade level in high school, are English-as-a-second-language learners, are failing all of the classes they are taking, are added to and/or dropped from the roster at midterm due to transience or pregnancy, are incarcerated several times for weeks during the semester, are admitted back from suspension for offenses at other schools, and also include special needs students who are mainstreamed. If a teacher writes a number of discipline referrals deemed to be "too many" by administration, those reports are counted against the individual teacher. The incidents are usually downplayed and go unreported so that the school is not placed on the "dangerous school" list, but the teacher is then targeted for harassment, retaliation, and very subjective negative comments on his/her TKES evaluation. These same TKES evaluations affect the salary and certification status of that individual teacher (as sanctioned by the Georgia State Board of Education). Teachers soon learn to play the game and tolerate unacceptable classroom behavior for the sake of their paychecks and job security. Administrators are masters of suppressing information and/or manipulating statistics to disclose only what they deem necessary for the public's needs to know. There is no way to get a true and honest sense of school atmosphere and how it affects student learning under these conditions, especially in small city school districts with charter designation like Decatur and Marietta, as they make their own policy and avoid the scrutiny that larger systems would incur. Allison Webb's glimpse into the life of a teacher (Monday School Conversation, March 9) is just the tip of the iceberg.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@readcritic


What you have written is true, according to my previous teaching experience.  This is why I keep saying that standardized test scores should only be used for diagnostic problems as to the reasons for a given student's failure (or success).  Standardized test results should not be used exclusively to determine a teacher's dismissal or salary increase.  There are too many variables beyond a teacher's control, in this area.


Moreover, the multitude of problems you describe in detail, regarding students' lives and their "acting out" because of their backgrounds, are reasons that I support the Democratic legislative plan for "Community Schools" with resources available for social workers, counselors, academic mentors and tutors, psychologists, if necessary, to serve the deeper needs of students and their parents/guardians.  The problems in our schools are reflective of our society's problems.  We must stop thinking in terms of "their" problems as opposed to "our" problems.  We must care enough to change the trajectory of our schools by helping to improve communities, even communities that we do not personally inhabit.  Our lives are interwoven in America, as was the intent of our Founders.  We must deal with our societal problems with compassion and impact.  Then, we will see our traditional public schools improve significantly.



Starik
Starik

@readcritic Yes. In DeKalb it's a tragedy when a once-upon-a-time decent high school gets packed with troubled students to the point that ordinary students move on to other schools, move to another districts or go to private schools or on-line "academies."  There must be a critical mass of function kids in order to set the tone of the school.  A certain number of troubled kids can be helped, but not when there are too many of them.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Starik 


Unfortunately, our leaders (and much of the public) would rather spend money on incarceration (where private companies are now making money), social workers (where private companies are also now making money), and welfare.  This type of thinking has little vision and little social conscience of a meaningful degree. 


I ask readers to consider how that type of narrow thinking differs from the slave owners and the Jim Crow segregationists of their separate eras?  All think or have thought, "I will look after me and mine only."

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

"I was also puzzled by some DeKalb results. For example, the DeKalb Alternative School earned the top rating of five stars/Excellent for school climate, while Chamblee Charter High School earned three stars.

Yet, on the state’s academic rankings DeKalb Alternative earned a grade of 33.9 on a scale of 100, while Chamblee posted a grade of 79.8, well above the state average of 68.

Then, I looked at the school attendance data for the two high schools. DeKalb Alternative School has an average daily student attendance of 67.7 percent, while Chamblee has an average daily student attendance of 95.2 percent.

You would expect the school climate grade to relate more to the academic ranking and attendance."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


Not necessarily.  Here's how school climate ranking may not be reflected in academic ranking and attendance:


DeKalb Alternative is the last resort for students in the DCSS who are trying to work within the system to earn a high school diploma.  If they do not comply with strict rules at DeKalb Alternative, they are often released from the DCSS (at least, that was the way it was when I had been an active teacher in the DCSS).


Often, as I recall, students who were sent to DeKalb Alternative had disciplinary problems, and frequently those disciplinary problems had their roots in those particular students' poor reading and academic skills.


The populations of every school will be different from every other.  That is a variable that is not controllable in public schools. This is why we must be somewhat wary of relative judgments between and among schools and school systems in both academic results and school climate results. Students who are sent to DeKalb Alternative, more than likely, had already developed the habit of poor attendance before they had entered that school.  School climate would not have had that great an affect on students who had already been ingrained not to attend school, usually for personal background reasons and academic reasons.  Their "pasts," in other words, end up effecting their "presents," more than the school's climate will impact them. 


Also, perhaps the relatively small number of students at the DeKalb Alternative School who participated in the school climate survey reflects the fact that those students (who participated) are especially grateful to have one more chance to work within the system to earn a high school diploma.  Moreover, teachers at the DeKalb Alternative School may be particularly compassionate toward those students regarding the predicament of their lives, as excellent teachers often are.  The teachers' compassion would be a positive impact on the school's climate at the DeKalb Alternative School.

Starik
Starik

@MaryElizabethSings I think you're confusing the Alternative High School with Open Campus; the Alternative High School is for kids who have been expelled.  Open Campus is for volunteers who can't tolerate their old high school setting or know they need discipline in attendance.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Starik


You may be onto something there, Starik.  I have been away from the DCSS for 15 years now, since I retired from being a permanent classroom teacher. 

What I may have been doing was merging the two schools in my mind, with both schools having the similar goal of serving those particular unorthodox students who have not been able to work well in a traditional high school setting. However, I believe that I was essentially thinking of the DeKalb Alternative School.  As I recall, even if the students there were expelled from the regular schools in the DCSS, they could continue at DAS until they graduated as long as they abided by the strict rules there. (On the other hand, students who had exhibited bizarre behaviors in the regular DCSS schools, like having a loaded gun at school and threatening someone there, would be expelled from the DCSS altogether, without having the option of going to DAS. Moreover, I was addressing the low attendance percentages which Maureen Downey had written had occurred at DAS, not Open Campus, as well as the school climate survey given at the DAS, not Open Campus, where only a minority of students chose to participate in that survey.


Even if I had merged some aspects of Open Campus with the DAS in my mind as I had penned my post, I, nevertheless, believe that much of what I had stated, above, regarding the special compassion of teachers and the lower academic standing and disciplinary problems of students remain applicable to both DeKalb Alternative School and to Open Campus.

BroadwayJoe
BroadwayJoe

I am not puzzled.  It is a meaningless measurement.  


When measuring student outcomes and graduation rates, City Schools of Decatur is exceptional while DeKalb is, well, DeKalb.  This is why you have parents all across DeKalb starving for charter schools as options for their kids.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@Accepable, I agree the school climate ratings -- which DOE was required to implement by law, not by choice -- are questionable. DeKalb has eight schools with the highest school climate rating of five stars yet failing College and Career Ready Performance Index grades.

And I don't get the high penalty for what DOE described to me as a lack of "congruence" in the teacher, student, parent surveys. Why is harmony so critical on the surveys? Where is the research to suggest if the surveys don't closely align, the school is in deep trouble? 




AceptableName
AceptableName

@MaureenDowney I appreciate your input and response.  Quite honestly, this is really perplexing.


I'm also unsure what this actually means to have 3 vs. 4 vs. 5 stars...

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@MaureenDowney I think they were trying to avoid teachers boosting the school scores, intentionally or unintentionally, with incorrectly high ratings.  Teachers may be unaware of the problems their students encounter, or they may, on purpose, artificially inflate the score.  Just as a parent whose child has had one unpleasant experience might rate the school in a way that seems that the problem goes on constantly.  Same for students.

Mandella88
Mandella88

@MaureenDowney

They are only questionable to you because they do not fit your narrative that these schools are "failing" (where is that word used by the GA DOE to describe any CCRPI score?).  If your Fifth Street Avenue angels and all of the other schools in Decatur had gotten five-stars and the 27 sites in DeKalb gotten 1 star, you would have been writing about the accuracy of the system.  Bias towards a sought after data result is just that: a bias.  This questions your integrity as a journalist.  I am disappointed.  Please don't go Mafia on us!

AceptableName
AceptableName

@MaureenDowney I think the school climate ratings are complete and utter trash.

Our local elementary school - not to name names - is near the top in the state on test scores (96+), safety, and parent satisfaction.  We had high participation in the surveys.  Yet the nebulous "School Wide Agreement" dinged our school and we received four stars for a 94.8 result.

Compare that to a minority-loaded, poor-performing on test scores (69.4) City of Atlanta elementary school.  Student Response, Teacher/Staff/Administrator Response, and School Wide Agreement were all "Low Participation."  The Parent Response was 67.26 (with under 15 parents out of 483 students!) responding.  Grand total?  "LP"  

Yet they received five stars.

Are we teaching our children and administrators to avoid responding to surveys, since no results = great results?

Now compare that with middle schools, where the star system is COMPLETELY different ("88.4 is 5 stars" - what?!).

Jmand65
Jmand65

With such a hidh profile of the APS cheating scandal, you sure would think that the state DOE would want an active fraud department that has easy access to reporting schools that actively avoid discipline write-ups without jeopardizing your job with the local school system.   As ATLPeach says, "Schools suspend kids without officially suspending them."  This seems to be a widespread problem.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

I think it is worth noting that DeKalb -- a system perceived to be full of unhappy students, parents and teachers -- did quite well on the new DOE school climate ratings, which, among other factors, draws heavily on parent, teacher and student satisfaction surveys.

Twenty-seven DeKalb's schools earned the top five star rating. It is up there with Gwinnett, which had 20 five-star schools, and Forsyth, which had 23. Both Gwinnett and Forsyth are recognized as highly successful districts. 

My system, Decatur, considered one of the top academic performers in the state and a district that leads the nation in rate of growth, did not have any schools with the five stars. (Several did get four stars.)




redweather
redweather

@MaureenDowney  All of which suggests to me that this survey produced results of questionable value.  A school with high academic ratings may have teachers, students, and parents who are more demanding with respect to what they expect.  As a result, they may be less likely to "five star" any of the performance indicators. By the same token, teachers, students and parents associated with schools whose academic performance has been less than stellar might view this kind of survey in an entirely different light. 

bu2
bu2

@MaureenDowney 

Maybe Decatur parents and students have higher expectations!


Or maybe there are some problems.  I was in the Decatur McDonald's not too long ago and had a HS student ask me for money-and he was fairly well dressed, so he looked pretty middle class.


In any event, it seems like a waste to try to create 1 number for such an intangible thing.  Makes USNWR college rankings look great by comparison.  However, having the website with the various information can be very informative for parents.

Mandella88
Mandella88

@MaureenDowney

"...perceived to be full of unhappy students, parents, and teachers" by whom?  The DeKalb Schools Watch II mafia?  Your neighbors who have children in City Schools of Decatur.  Anonymous bloggers?  What is your data source to substantiate this position?


Do you believe that City Schools of Decatur or Gwinnett County are full of happy students, parents, and teachers?  Maybe it appears that way due to effective control of media, but when anonymous surveys are offered to students, parents, and teachers, they aren't as happy as everyone thinks; but I'm just using data collected by the Ga DOE....

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Here is a reason some of the high-performing schools have low scores:  THEY DON'T PUT UP WITH ANYTHING!  On the low-performing schools doing better:  They rarely write up anyone for anything!  It's not that bad things don't happen, but the data does not see it if it is not reported.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

As an example, when my daughter taught in Dahlonega, THE PRINCIPAL would call parents if the student came to school "unprepared!"  If that happened at my local school, the principal would be on the phone all day telling people to bring their children's stuff to school.  At least for a while, until the lesson was learned.


MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

From DeKalb Schools this morning:


The DeKalb County School District led the state with 27 schools being recognized as having an “excellent school climate” that gives students the “environment they need to learn.”


DeKalb County is joined by Forsyth County Schools and Gwinnett County Public Schools for the top three school systems in Georgia with 23 and 20 schools, respectively.


A five-star rating is the highest school achievement and represents an “excellent school climate.” “Parents, teachers, and principals as well as the support staff work together to create a positive learning environment for students,” said Superintendent Michael Thurmond. “The new climate star ratings confirm our commitment to create a safe and secure culture of learning.”


The 2014 School Climate Star Ratings are part of the 2014 CCRPI reports for schools and refer to the quality and character of school life. 

class80olddog
class80olddog

It IS telling that attendance is one of the criteria - I have been preaching attendance as on of the top three issues with failing schools FOREVER.  At least someone else gets it. 

Starik
Starik

This column, and most of the responses are depressing.  Of course, the situation in many schools, and some school districts in Metro Atlanta, is realistically depressing.  Maybe the Governor, a classic Blind Pig in many of his appointments, will root up an acorn of an administrator for his school takeover program who can handle the problem one school at a time - and succeed.

ATLPeach
ATLPeach

These numbers are not a true indication of how safe a school is.  Schools suspend kids without officially suspending them.  I've seen students sent home under suspension without being given any paperwork.  Many administrators refuse to suspend kids for fear of being labeled unsafe.  Teachers are forced to deal with the most unruly students.  What else explains how schools that perform better academically rank lower than schools with lower academic achievement.  It's all smoke and mirrors. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@ATLPeach A former administrator at my school refused to suspend anyone till the last few weeks of school!  Instead of jumping on problems immediately (and thus, perhaps, saving the teacher and classmates HOURS and HOURs of disruptions) she argued that suspending them too soon would "use up" the most severe punishment before the end of the year.  Talk about short-sighted!

class80olddog
class80olddog

In general, the schools with the best academic scores also have the best climate.  I would rather they just publish the raw data on these schools and let me make up my own mind, rather than try to turn it into a useless "score" that means nothing because you can't figure out how it was calculated.

PITTFAN
PITTFAN

Thank you for researching that.  I was so confused yesterday. 

JohnBuck2
JohnBuck2

If APS has taught us anything it's that you cannot assume a school's leadership is ethical.  When you expect a school to "self-report" instances that will lower a rating that would tarnish the school's or leader's reputation, there Will be bias in what's reported.  

redweather
redweather

Beware of anyone beginning a sentence with the words "Research has shown . . ."  As Sam Clemmons pointed out a long time ago there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.

taylor48
taylor48

Using disciplinary data as part of the School Climate Survey?  Awesome.  Now, even more discipline issues will be swept under the rug by my administrators because "we need to impress the parents."

redweather
redweather

"On the reverse side, how did an alternative high school with terrible academic performance and daily average attendance of only 67 percent earn five stars for school climate?  DeKalb Alternative School benefited by the reprieve on penalties for low participation in the student, parent and teacher surveys. It did not meet the threshold for student or teacher responses."


You can't make this stuff up. 

Starik
Starik

@redweather If the NY Times picks up this story we'll be teased unmercifully.

redweather
redweather

@Starik @redweather  This strikes me as a complete failure to assess performance.  We shouldn't be teased, we should be denounced.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@redweather @Starik And, perhaps, do away with some of those big-bucks jobs at the state level that came up with this(stuff)and shift the money to....not tax credits for the wealthy...but to schools that have struggling students, or to widespread alternative schools for students starting in the primary schools.

eulb
eulb

@Starik @redweather or The Daily Show.  They might  send a reporter to the Dekalb Alternative School to show viewers an example of a top-rated public school in Georgia.  How embarrassing!

smithmc
smithmc

Rating school climate is just another attempt to cram schools--with all their nuances, complexities, expectations--into a simple box, just as the TKES program attempts to do to teachers, and all standardized testing attempts to do to our children.


There is no test, survey or poll that can meaningfully "place" human beings or schools into convenient categories.  This very concept of rating is an insult to our humanity.