Last-minute transfers to alternative school: Helping students or helping system?

The AJC has been looking at Hall County over the last few weeks because of the high number of students it moves from its regular high schools to its alternative school. The practice has long been a source of complaints from a few folks in Hall, including a regular poster here at Get Schooled who often shared troubling numbers about transfer rates.

In a data analysis, the AJC found multiple years in which a small number of graduates affected whether schools made adequate year progress, better known as AYP. The AJC found that three of Hall’s high schools missed their graduation-rate targets in 2007; East Hall missed by 14 students. Chestatee was off by three students, and  Johnson High missed by one. (The AJC notes that Chestatee and Johnson still made AYP because of a second-chance option that allows schools to use a multi-year average.)

During the next two years, when transfers to Hall’s alternative school, Lanier Career Academy,  jumped, the three schools posted better outcomes. East Hall made its graduation-rate goals by 10 students in 2008 and nine in 2009. Johnson did so by 12 students in 2008 and 11 in 2009. Chestatee did so by 18 students in 2008 and 14 in 2009.

The AJC data analysis found that during those two years, Hall high schools transferred a total of 79 students to Lanier at the last minute. State data obtained by the AJC does not show where the transfers originated.

In the latest piece, AJC investigative reporter Heather Vogell talked to transferred students about their experiences.

Here is part of the story:

Dillan Hatcher said officials at Chestatee High School told him he was hurting the school’s chances of meeting federal standards for its graduation rate. Hatcher failed one portion of the Georgia High School Graduation Test and, as a result, expected to receive a certificate of performance instead of a diploma. Only diplomas boost a school’s graduation rate.

Hatcher said that when he arrived at Lanier Career Academy the final week of school, educators told him it was too late in the year to enroll in any programs. He said he sat in front of a computer, texted friends and stared at the wall. “I went for nothing,” he said. “I should have just gone home.”

Hall’s practice of transferring struggling students from regular high schools to Lanier days before graduation has been criticized by some who questioned whether the district simply shuffled students around to game the state’s accountability system. The pressure is much greater on regular high schools to meet graduation-rate standards than on Lanier.

Superintendent Will Schofield has vigorously defended the transfers. Last week, however, he said it is possible high schools had moved students to benefit their graduation rate in a few instances. But he said such transfers are not district practice. “I would be pretty Pollyannaish if I said that that didn’t happen at some point somewhere,” he said. “But in terms of the whole philosophy of the program, that’s not who we are.”

At one point, West Hall High School was in the running for an award — a Blue Ribbon of Excellence — but missed adequate yearly progress, or AYP, by three students, he said. All the district had to do was transfer the three, he said, but school officials “took our lumps.”

Overall, the district has defended sending students to Lanier, saying the moves are almost always voluntary and allow the district to provide assistance to students in danger of dropping out. Some are studying to retake the graduation test over the summer; others may take GED classes. Enrollment in Lanier even at the end of the year improves chances students will continue in their studies, officials said.

The Hall district in northeast Georgia is only the latest school system to face accusations of monkeying with the numbers to try to improve schools’ status under the accountability system built after the No Child Left Behind Act passed in 2001.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported this month that, in the past three years, at least 94 Hall County students who were due to receive certificates instead of diplomas transferred to Lanier in the final days of the school year. A 2009 email by the former principal for Lanier urged other schools to transfer their certificate students to Lanier at semester’s end “to improve your graduation rate.”

Hatcher said that, after he failed the graduation test, Chestatee High officials pulled him into the school office and told him he needed to go to Lanier. They convinced his father the move was good for him. “They said you’ll learn everything you need at LCA,” said Hatcher, who was reluctant to leave the school he had attended since freshman year.

“When I got to LCA, they said, ‘Get on the computer and do whatever,’ ” he said. “They said, ‘It’s too late in the year; we can’t get you in a program.’ ” He passed the graduation test re-test anyway. A few weeks later, he received his diploma.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

77 comments Add your comment

JM

May 31st, 2011
11:18 am

I wonder if the Hall county officials who “encouraged” these transfers are also encouraging other families not satisfied with the education of their children to seek education at charter schools.

AlreadySheared

May 31st, 2011
11:32 am

What? Some administrators are ethically challenged bald-faced liars? I don’t believe it!

Inman Park

May 31st, 2011
11:44 am

EnterI think what the practice really points out is the foolishness of rating a school up or down based on the graduation rate. The natuire of public education is such that schools must accept all commers, whether they are smart, dumb, rich, poor, black, white, Latino, or whatever. That is at once a strength and a weakness of public education. The “weakest” school in the “weakest” system in Georgia will send some kids to pretigious colleges. The “strongest” schools will have some drop outs and academic deadbeats. Look to the socioeconomic makeup of the school, and be reasonable. Recognize that in schools that serve a high number of students whose parents live at or below the poverty level you will find a relatively higher drop out rate and DON’T penalize the school for a broader social problem. We really do use public schools as a scapegoat in the country!

Mac

May 31st, 2011
12:03 pm

Seems like Schofield is continuing to throw his principals under the bus for something he is responsible for. This is wholly an unethical practice and it has happened on his watch and under his leadership. It is not really different from an administrator who withdraws students with a high number of absences a day or so before the CRCT like that principal in the news a while back.

Schofield and the administrators who did this need to resign immediately or be let go. There are no excuses for this kind of cheating the system. It only serves to help the admins look good and make other systems who are not cheating look bad.

Ole Guy

May 31st, 2011
12:49 pm

This entire practice seems to attract the same attention as that toward one who just farted in church…”OH WELL”!! Never mind calls for resignation, “boo booing” and such nicities. From my position in the trenches, I call this nothing short of a breach in public trust. Big question: HAVE ANY LAWS BEEN BUSTED? If not…inasmuch as these type practices seem to be almost routine in the ever-present political quest to “look good” for the ultimate purpose of financial gain, perhaps our esteemed lawmakers should enact laws, WITH TEETH, to forstall such criminal behavior by those who are supposed to have the public’s best interests behind their behavior. Let’s get with it, you jokers in that idiotic dome.

Hall Co

May 31st, 2011
12:58 pm

“Doing more with less” is the saying in Hall County. That is one of their least offensive school improvement strategies. Just look at the ESOL students being read the CRCT in Hall. Just because a student is Hispanic doesn’t mean they can’t read and speak English.

BB

May 31st, 2011
1:02 pm

Typical Hall County. I’m so glad I’m no longer teaching!

Reality

May 31st, 2011
1:15 pm

How is this type of cheating really any different than the APS cheating? Doesn’t it all boil down to administrators wanting to fudge numbers to make AYP?

So now the question becomes….. why isn’t SACS all down Hall County’s throat as they were and have been with APS?

Mac

May 31st, 2011
1:16 pm

@Ole Guy, Are you kidding? Principals at 2 of the schools mentioned got promoted to positions at the central office this year! A reward for a job well done I guess…

Teacher4Reform

May 31st, 2011
1:33 pm

@Reality- Good point! Why don’t you ask Schofield’s friend, State Superintendent John Barge, who was the principal at Chestatee High School (school mentioned
in the AJC article) several years ago. Hall also just hired Barge’s former AP and Bartow county principal to fill the principal’s position at Johnston High that just opened when the current principal got promoted to the central office this spring.

special ed teacher 2

May 31st, 2011
1:42 pm

Practices such as this are really disheartening to the teachers trying to make a difference. My students worked HARD this year and all 13 special education students that I teach passed the CRCT tests. Does anyone think they, or I , would have put in all the effort if they only had to transfer schools instead of studying?

Dunwoody Mom

May 31st, 2011
1:48 pm

In my view, these actions are just as harmful and agregious as those perpetuated by APS. Where is the outrage here? Is it due to the Superintendent’s past role with these schools????

Ole Guy

May 31st, 2011
1:58 pm

That’s exactly my point, Mac. It’s going to take a little “kicking of the weeds”…(in more graphic words) a political squeezing of the spheroids. Look Bud, I’ve been there…both my generation and I have served time on the front lines of social justice/of leading a demand for simply what’s right. Now, all I hear/read of is complaints, complaints, and (did I mention) complaints. Despite political gladhanding, future generations are receiving nothing short of a direct path to lives of mediocrity and desperation. It’s up to you/parents of these kids to kick start the process. Once again, Mac, I implore “GET WITH IT”!

Reality

May 31st, 2011
2:04 pm

Does anyone in Hall County care? Where is the parent outrage?

Or, are they more of the ’sweep it under the rug until it goes away’ type of people?

Jerry Eads

May 31st, 2011
2:08 pm

@Inman Park gets it. It does not matter at all what field or profession or business; as soon as a measure of some event is made “high stakes,” the measure becomes corrupted.

Some years ago I had the misfortune of having to attend meetings in the department of ed concerning the reporting of discipline infractions in the schools to the state. Those “in charge” simply could not fathom that there would be a tendency to underreport. The result was not only that events went unreported, but (far worse) it’s likely that some administrators were even less likely to mete out discipline, further damaging any semblance of classroom order.

It’s the same for graduation rates and, of course, testing. The EASIEST way to raise graduation (or pass) rates is to figure out how not to report those who cannot graduate or pass. The result of such “accountability” of course is not any improvement in learning, but the waste of energy aimed at corrupting the measure that could have been devoted to helping students instead.

Now ask yourselves honestly, remembering that the same thing goes on across the world in any “high stakes” situations, including business (sales figures are a relatively popular example for “high stakes” corruption): Was moving the student to the alternative school the fault of the administrator at the school or was it the fault of the incompetents who insisted on using graduation rate by itself as a measure of school success?

Ole Guy

May 31st, 2011
2:20 pm

Reality, the answer appears to be…(drumroll)…B.

Listen up, people…you and your stupid (yes, stupid) kids are facing nothing but disappointment. I suspect parents average somewhere around mid-40-ish which, in my book, places you at the same timeframe of educational decline. Looky here, I’ve led a somewhat checkered, though very productive life…I’m comfortable with what I’ve managed to accomplish. YOU PEOPLE are failing; YOU PEOPLE, along with your kids, are destined to lives of desperate failure, UNLESS you get your stuff together. Your early lives were proped up with financial bubbles which gave rise to your attitudes of “can’t lose”; unfortunately, your kids picked up on that “easy trails” mindset, feeling that the “system” will simply move em along with absolutely no effort required, just like you set the example with your easy come/easy go approach to leveraging your way to the easy life. YOU, for both your kids’ sakes…and yours…better take action NOW.

Hallcoresident

May 31st, 2011
2:27 pm

@Reality- I don’t think it is that people don’t care. Many of them just don’t know. The Gainesville Times has yet to report on this issue even though the AJC and channel 2 have. People in the schools are too job scared to say much.

EnoughAlready

May 31st, 2011
2:36 pm

I’ve said it before, everyone harks on what happens in Clayton, Dekalb and Atlanta schools. If you look across the entire state of Georgia you will find corruption, cheating and bald face liars; and it’s not just in our school systems.

archie@arkham asylum

May 31st, 2011
2:47 pm

@Hallcoreresident: I believe you when you say that people in the schools are too job scared to say much. This is pretty much everywhere in Georgia, not just Hall County. Teachers in particular, are afraid to stand up for others or even for themselves because they fear for their jobs (and the current job situation in Georgia doesn’t help anything, either!). One of the unwritten rules in Georgia public education is “thou shalt not rock the boat.” I should also mention that the teacher’s unions don’t scare anyone in Georgia. No teacher wants to risk losing their job and have the appelation “not a team player” on their final evaluation.

metro teacher

May 31st, 2011
3:00 pm

How about a school not letting first time juniors take the graduation test if they had not passed two credits of math, english, science and social studies? Got to keep that AYP looking good.

oldtimer

May 31st, 2011
3:13 pm

I think that most people do not care as long as it is not their kids…

Mac

May 31st, 2011
3:14 pm

@Jerry and Inman, I agree with you in regards of the idiocy of using high stakes testing and AYP.
However, if we can’t expect some semblance of integrity from school leaders and teachers even if the law of the land is horrible, then we are not just doing disservice to sales quotas and widgets but to our children.

I would also point out that Hall County Schools is one of the Race to the Top systems that is pushing for EVEN MORE high stakes accountability in terms of etcher merit pay etc. A district that can’t make the grade without cheating is going to now champion further high stakes measures??!
Schofield himself was one of the people that helped write Georgia’s application for Race to the Top and he basically says here it was OK to cheat, just blame the kids and the AYP accountability system.

JM

May 31st, 2011
3:32 pm

Some people still wonder why many families are turning to alternatives like charter, private and home schools

Tony

May 31st, 2011
4:23 pm

When do we begin to hold students responsible for their lack of effort? The students who are transferred have had multiple opportunities to pass the required exams. Based on all the arguments above, I get the idea that it’s always the mean and corrupt school officials. I have seen kids sit in classes with no intention of doing any work to make the grade. I’ve seen them mark answers on the required exams without reading the questions. The way things are presented in this article and in the media in general, it is the schools fault for the students’ behaviors.

Second, the use of high stakes testing and the current AYP requirements are idiotic. Schools are actually marked down on AYP for trying to help the very students referenced in this article. Why? Because they will not graduate on time. The graduation requirement in the AYP formula is merely an efficiency calculation – how many come out compared to how many go in. Schools only have four years to graduate even the most challenging of students. Quit penalizing schools for these kinds of insane measures.

Dr. Tom

May 31st, 2011
4:27 pm

Non-issue. Why would a failing student want to transfer to LCA if there is a possibility of him graduating with his peers? The issue is not the timing! Why do the students transfer at the end of the school year? Because that is when they know weather they will “walk” or not. These kids are getting every chance to make it in their high school. LCA is a parachute for the kids that find they are free falling. This is a good program getting a bad rep by “shock and awe” journalism.

Monise

May 31st, 2011
4:38 pm

@Archie A lot of people are under the impression that Georgia has a teachers’ union; it does not. GAE and PAGE are not unions because they do not handle collective bargaining, as it does not exist in Georgia. The state sets a teacher salary scale and counties add to it, depending on what they can afford to pay. Associations and unions are not one and the same, especially since administrators can belong to the same association as teachers. If there were a real union or anyone in Georgia with cajones, I would still be in the classroom. Not enough people willing to speak out against injustices against both students and teachers.

PacMan

May 31st, 2011
4:42 pm

The CRCT is a bad test too, but we sure go after people who cheat on it. How many millions of dollars have we spent analyzing erasures? I don’t see much difference here.

Old Physics Teacher

May 31st, 2011
4:51 pm

There is a term called “Learned Helplessness.” I don’t remember the study; I don’t have access to the educational journals anymore. Nevertheless, I believe the term applies to the situation where a person tries as hard as he can to succeed at a task. After three full attempts, with analysis after each attempt of why the individual failed, the individual will quit and claim the goal is unreachable.

I believe that is where we now stand on NCLB. The odds are stacked against us; the politicians are against us, and now the politicians have turned the general public against us. In my school system, we get 30-60 students socially promoted every year. Most of these kids are reading 3-4 years behind grade and even do not know the 10 x 10 tables! There is no way for these kids to pass any 9th grade courses. Therefore there is no way, 4 years later, for us to make AYP. We do not have a single teacher qualified to teach these classes. Even if we did, class sizes and finances prevent it. Every system is in the same fix. The politicians have fixed the game for us to lose.

Therefore, I submit that any tactic, loophole, the “law” allows us to succeed is valid.

williev2000

May 31st, 2011
5:02 pm

The process of moving students to LCA is CHEATING! It is absolutely no different than what is happened in APS.

Of course nothing will happen – just saying!!! Ask John.

williev2000

May 31st, 2011
5:05 pm

*typo* Remove the second “is” in the second sentence.

Mac

May 31st, 2011
5:05 pm

Again, no one is arguing the system isn’t poor or even broken.
But cheating and gaming the system with loopholes only serves to support the flawed system and help hide the fact that it has failed. It also screams of hypocrisy when we preach about character and integrity in our school systems but resort to gross manipulation to pass such as Hall County has done here. As far as the students refusing to perform, that was a problem long before NCLB and will be after it has gone. I don’t see how this is relevant to what Hall county has done here. Adults should know better.

Mr Charlie

May 31st, 2011
5:22 pm

williev, if you can’t tell the difference, you must have went to a APS school. What Hall is doing is gaming the system, what APS did was flat out lying and cheating. They told kids that they scored better on tests than they really did, the flat out lied. Where are students being lied to in Hall?

williev2000

May 31st, 2011
5:26 pm

Mr. Charlie – no I did not “have went” to APS. Cheating is Cheating my friend.

Mr Charlie

May 31st, 2011
5:35 pm

How can you say that Hall is cheating? Why not give the kid the opportunity to pass and walk with his classmates? Should he have been tracked into alternative school before and not given every opportunity.

What they did can be considered unethical, but not is not a flat out lie. There can be justification.
It is not erasing freaking test answers for the entire school system.

Who is to say that this is not done at APS too? Oh thats right, they would not need to, they just change the answers on the tests.

Why would you think that Sacs would single out APS, but not Hall?

Bottom line, you do not draw a good analogy, it seems you have an agenda trying to justify what happened in APS.

Texas Pete

May 31st, 2011
5:48 pm

Mr Charlie,

LOL. Yeah, it’s called “gaming the system” until you get caught and charged with something then it’s “cheating”. BYOM society baby…Bring Your Own Morality.

Texas Pete

May 31st, 2011
5:50 pm

“Go after the blue collar criminals first so that us white collar criminals have more time to get away with our wrong doings.”

- Mr Charlie

Mr Charlie

May 31st, 2011
5:52 pm

I am sure if you look at every school system, each one is doing something that can raise eyebrows, so what do you do?

A. Go after every school system and put them all on probation regardless of how low the impact is if the indiscretion might be, and regardless of what the justification might be? Because, “Cheatin is Cheatin”.

B. Maybe since SACs does not have the manpower and resources to put every school district on probation, they should turn a blind eye the to practice of changing test scores and allow APS continue to lie to their students? Why should they even exist at all?

C. maybe Sacs should allocate their resources and go after the worst offenders first that impact the students the most?

I say the answer is C. How about you? What is your rational explanation? “Cheatin is Cheatin” is not rational, or will that analogy get you very far on a standardized test.

Mac

May 31st, 2011
5:53 pm

The correct analogy isn’t the erasure issue.

The correct analogy is what happened when the Atlanta area administrator, Dekalb I think, removed 13 students who were going to negatively impact her school’s AYP from the rolls right before CRCT testing. The difference is her superintendent turned her in to the PSC when she was caught and did not make excuses for it or condone her actions. Do you call what that principal did cheating?

Maureen, do you remember where this happened?

williev2000

May 31st, 2011
5:58 pm

First, I do not have anything to do with APS. I do know an elementary school teacher in the school system.

The students in the Hall County Schools, from all media reports, had failed the last administration of the Georgia High School Graduation Test prior to their scheduled graduation. They have an opportunity for a re-take, I’m sure, this summer. The only reason to transfer in the last week is to attempt get around the Adequately Yearly Progress Standards. The goal: To Make AYP. This is the very same goal at APS in their cheating scandal. Please do not think I am saying what APS did was ethical. They all should be fired in my opinion. However, the same should occur in Hall County.

There are several “gaming” things schools and school systems do to circumvent the process. I know you would be surprised. Let me give you another example: If a high school student is about to drop out of school; schools and school systems will encourage the student to apply for “Home-School”. Do you think I know what I’m talking about yet, Mr. Charlie? “Cheating is Cheating, my friend!”

williev2000

May 31st, 2011
6:01 pm

Oh let me explain, Mr. Charile. If you transfer to “Home-School”, you will not be considered a drop-out!

Mr Charlie

May 31st, 2011
6:09 pm

Again, it is all about resources and priorities. Should Sacs go after Hall? Maybe, unless there is a more blatant example yet to be discovered in another school system that impacts more students.

Is murder the same as stealing a candy bar? Because Breaking the law is Breaking the law…..Again, your philosophy, while saturated in ethics, is not based in rational thought.

Mr Charlie

May 31st, 2011
6:12 pm

Again, is Hall alone in this Drop Out rouse? Can you tell me APS does not do the exact same thing? How many other school systems do it? Is the “Drop out rouse” the most pressing thing that warrants SACS resources? Or is the some other school system doing something worse that has a higher impact? Truth is, you, nor I, really know, now do we?

Mr Charlie

May 31st, 2011
6:13 pm

Just to take a flier, why do you think SACS “singled out” APS?

williev2000

May 31st, 2011
6:19 pm

I’m not talking about SACS. I’m talking about “Cheating”! I’m not talking about PSC. I’m talking about “Cheating”. Would you feel better if I said; “gaming the system”? Gaming the system can be defined as “[using] the rules and procedures meant to protect a system in order, instead, to manipulate the system for [a] desired outcome”. (Desired Outcome: To Make AYP!!!!)

williev2000

May 31st, 2011
6:30 pm

My last time, I promise. Is not SACS at APS because of the School Board? Is not the Governor’s Office in-charge of the cheating issue? I may be wrong.

Maureen please answer that one.

Old School

May 31st, 2011
6:31 pm

I think folks need to take a closer look at “credit recovery.” Now THERE’s a sketchy program used by some schools to allow failing students to get credits with minimal effort.

another comment

May 31st, 2011
6:33 pm

The same thing is with the graduation rates someone is fudging. My daughter told me that I believe that 420 students graduated from her Cobb County High School, yet at Freshman year the classes have about 665 students. I remember that number from her class ranks. So with 420 graduating out of 665 Freshman that is only a 63% graduation rate. Even if I heard her wrong and she said 460 graduated, that is only a 70% graduation rate. I was just shocked that there was only a low to mid 400 students graduating from a Cobb County 5A School with 2,200 students.

I went to a small high school in a small district in upstate New York that only had about 1,450 students, and I graduated from a class of 365 graduating seniors. I only know of one student who dropped out of my class in 4 years. That was in the 9th grade because she was pregnant. One other student’s family moved to Peachtree City, Ga. in High School. But no one else ever moved away. A few people moved in as their family moved out to the country or outer suburbs along the way. But we didn’t have a transient population. Most of my classmates parents worked blue collar factor jobs that were union at the Ford Plant or the Steel Mills. They lived middle class lives, but their parents expected them to graduate from high school. You had to graduate from high school to get one of these Union Factory jobs in the late 70’s.

I couldn’t beleive until I moved to Georgia in the 1980’s after College that people were still dropping out of high school. My mother did in 1942, but she was the exception in upstate NY., all her 7 younger siblings graduated.

Mr Charlie

May 31st, 2011
6:36 pm

I getcha, and it is my assumption that every school system out there tries in some way to cook the books in order to reach the mandates. I don’t like it, nor do I agree with it, I think it is a symptom of a larger broken system.

But again, is murder the same a stealing a candy bar? And you say it is not about “Sacs”, but the entire thread started when you questioned why Sacs is not going after Hall like they did APS. Maybe they will, but I point is Sacs has limited resources, so they need to go after the most blatant violators that is affecting the most students, and I have not seen anything to suggest that what is happening in Hall is impacts more students overall then what happened in APS. Cheating is cheating, but life ain’t that cut and dried, it is never that simple.

Kanarstead

May 31st, 2011
6:41 pm

“Would you feel better if I said; “gaming the system”?”

You got it right the first time, Hall County Schools are CHEATING.

Hall County Schools = C H E A T E R S

Dr. John Trotter

May 31st, 2011
6:47 pm

Will Mark Elgart and his SACS Joke-of-a-Team show up in Chicken Country? Nope. Nothing — at least, nothing substantive — be be laid at the feet of Superintendent Will Schofield. If he didn’t know about this “little practice,” well, he should have known. What did he know and when did he know it? Shades of a young Republican attorney, Fred Thompson, during the Watergate Hearings. Ha! What did ole Will know, and when did he know it? Before it’s over, chicken feathers may be wafting all over the Chattahoochee…didn’t Sidney Lanier write, “Out of the hills of Habersham and down through the valleys of Hall”? Why would Hall County name an academy for “failures” after this best known of Georgia poets, Sidney Lanier? These kids might not have been labeled “failures,” if the educrats in Hall County didn’t know that they had an “alternative” to which they could whisk these kids away.

My further take on the situation…

http://georgiateachersspeakout.wordpress.com/