On Sunday, Sept. 17, the Douglas County Sentinel published a letter to the editor from Jeremy Noonan, a former Douglas County School System (DCSS) employee and frequent critic of the school system. I would like to clarify some of the claims made by Mr. Noonan.
CLAIM: Mr. Noonan claims that DCSS announced high graduation rates without disclosing that online courses are used.
FACT: The DCSS graduation rate for 2016 was 87.13 percent, higher than the state average of 79.43 percent. Graduation rates rate for 2017 have not yet been announced.
Like school districts across the nation, DCSS uses an online learning platform designed for students who failed a course to recover high school course credit, with the approval of the teacher and administrator. Since students are pre-assessed and given credit for content already mastered, they typically complete credit recovery in less time than if they repeated the course in a traditional classroom. We do not hide the fact that we offer online credit recovery to our students. For more information, see page nine of the DCSS annual report, published in January, 2017. The annual report is available under “About DCSS” on the school system website.
CLAIM: Mr. Noonan claims that “test scores were lower than the state across the board.”
FACT: In spring 2016, U.S. History scores of Proficient and Distinguished Learners tied with the state and Economics exceeded the state in the percent of Proficient and Distinguished Learners.
In spring 2017, 9th Literature tied with the state; American Literature was below the state but increased from 39 percent Proficient and Distinguished Learners to 44 percent; scores in Physical Science and Biology were below the state but increased in Proficient and Distinguished Learners; U.S. History and Economics were both above the state in Proficient and Distinguished Learners.
CLAIM: Mr. Noonan claims that “CCRPI increases that same year were touted without disclosing that the ‘increases’ were only due to major changes in the formula.”
FACT: The state did make changes to the CCRPI to reward student growth and progress towards student proficiency based on the state’s higher expectations associated with GMAS. Students in DCSS are evaluated by the same formula as all other students across the state, and the school system has no control over changes the Georgia Department of Education makes regarding the CCRPI.
In 2015, DCSS elementary and high schools scored above the state average on the CCRPI. Middle schools scored 0.2 of a point below the state average. In 2016, DCSS elementary, middle, and high schools were all above the state average. CCRPI scores for 2017 have not been released.
CLAIM: Mr. Noonan criticized the school system for celebrating gains in SAT scores in 2016 without revealing that they had declined in three of five schools.
FACT: Two schools experienced gains from the 2015 cohort year to the 2016 cohort year. Three schools experienced a dip, but DCSS did experience an overall increase in critical reading and mathematics. Our press released disclosed the score for DCSS overall and for each of the five high schools, including increases and decreases per school.
CLAIM: Mr. Noonan claims that the recent ACT scores are significantly below the state average.
FACT: The DCSS composite score on the ACT was 19.8, while the state score was 21.4 and the national average was 21. We recognized in the press release that we have room for improvement. While we desire higher test scores, we continue to encourage more students to participate in the ACT and SAT. Preparation courses for these tests will be available in our high schools this year.
CLAIM: Mr. Noonan claimed that DCSS conveyed in writing that the school system ‘outperformed’ most districts in the metro area on CCRPI.
FACT: Mr. Noonan is referring to a school system presentation at the Sept. 5, 2017, Board of Education work session. The presenter said that a higher percentage of schools in Douglas County “Beat the Odds” compared to surrounding counties. The “Beat the Odds” designation is awarded by the Georgia Department of Education and is based on the predicted range within which a school’s CCRPI score is statistically expected to fall given the school’s size, student transiency, and student demographics including race/ethnicity, disability, English learners, and poverty. The presentation contained a slide with the heading “Beat the Odds” under which the reference was made to outperforming other districts. The presentation was not misleading in any way and is available on the school system website.
The school system acknowledges that there is always work to be done to improve outcomes for students. However, we think it appropriate to point out just a few recent accomplishments.
International Baccalaureate (IB) exam results that were released in July indicated that 80 percent of students in the IB program at Douglas County High School scored high enough to earn the coveted IB Diploma for 2017. This is an increase from 65 percent in 2016 and marks the first time in the program’s history that the scores have achieved or exceeded the international average.
Eighty-six students in Douglas County earned the prestigious Georgia Seal of Biliteracy for the second reporting cycle on Sept. 1, 2017. Seventy-nine students earned the seal during the first reporting cycle in May 2017. The Biliteracy Seal was established by the state and certifies proficiency in two or more languages.
Five students from Douglas County were selected from a pool of over 1,500 applicants across the state to serve on the State Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council for 2017-2018. Only 142 students across the state were selected.
With the “Computer Science for All” initiative, DCSS is the first school system in the state to offer all students in grades kindergarten through 12 instruction in computer science. DCSS is collaborating with Google, Code.org, Georgia Tech, and the Georgia Department of Education on this initiative.
I would also like to point out positive ways that community members can become more involved with the school system. We invite the public to celebrate our 34 Teachers of the Year at Central Baptist Church on Sept. 28 at 4:30 p.m. We encourage community members to attend one of the three remaining “DCSS Listens” town hall-style forums where members of the DCSS leadership team welcome ideas and suggestions from parents and the public. We also invite you to sign up for “Principal 4 A Day” which will take place on Oct. 19. You may sign up to shadow a principal for a half day and experience all the learning and activities that take place in our schools every day. You will find an application on the school system website, www.douglas.k12.ga.us. We also value our community members who serve as mentors to our students through the MATCH Mentor program. For information on becoming a mentor, please contact Mitzi Teal at 770-651-2039.
Finally, I would like to express thanks to the teachers and staff members who work tirelessly in our schools every day to make a difference for our children of all abilities. Thank you also to the many members of our community who embrace our schools and work to make Douglas County a great place to live.
Wiley Dailey is director for Assessment, Accountability and Evaluation with the Douglas County School System.