Achieve Atlanta: $20M for APS scholarships! This kind of investment will change the lives of APS students and the landscape of Atlanta’s workforce forever.

I am thrilled about an incredible new partnership for our district with Achieve Atlanta, an organization spearheaded by The Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation and The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.  This initiative will dramatically increase the number of APS students graduating from high school and then entering and successfully graduating from colleges and technical schools.  Their $20 million investment in our students is beautiful, bold and aggressive. I truly believe that this is the kind of investment that will change the lives of APS students and the landscape of Atlanta’s workforce forever.  This type of partnership is exactly what our students need and deserve.

Achieve Atlanta will bring partners to APS who will provide college counseling support to our students. These counselors will work in conjunction with our APS high school counselors beginning in ninth grade, show them how college is actually accessible and help them secure scholarships.

Achieve will also help with gap scholarships so that APS students have fewer financial barriers to access college.

This week Achieve Atlanta named Tina Fernandez, a former bilingual elementary school teacher and law professor, as executive director of the organization.  While serving with the University of Texas School of Law, Ms. Fernandez launched a Pro Bono Program that helped deliver legal services to low-income individuals.  She is currently a partner at Bellwether Education Partners.

I had the pleasure of working with Ms. Fernandez in Austin and I am excited to see her bring her passion for education to Atlanta.  I’d like to thank our Deputy Superintendent David Jernigan, who served on the search committee.

Earlier this year, Dr. Timothy Gadson, our APS Associate Superintendent of High Schools and I were able to see this type of programming in action during a site visit to Denver, Colorado to visit the Denver Scholarship Foundation.  I was joined by the team of people who have really made this partnership happen for the students of Atlanta – Lizzy Smith and Russ Hardin with the Woodruff and Whitehead Foundations and Lesley Grady and Alicia Philipp with the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.

I think that this partnership will go a long way towards ensuring that kids who historically have not been able to access college have the academic, financial and emotional supports to not only get into college but complete college.  Our APS counselors do a heroic job of getting kids into college but their case loads are enormous and Achieve will help ensure more students have access to the counseling they need to identify the right college for them.

As they thoughtfully and carefully prepared this initiative, the folks over at Achieve Atlanta commissioned a research study around issues and opportunities for improving college access and completion for APS students.  Click HERE to read the full study, but their results tell us that:

  • Atlanta’s students are not receiving high quality consistent advising while in high school that prepares them for post-secondary education;
  • Too many students are not enrolling in college;
  • Many APS graduates do not graduate from college due to emotional, academic and financial barriers; and
  • Atlanta’s nonprofit and civic community organizations are not responding to students needs in a holistic manner.

Our students will participate in the following Achieve Atlanta signature programs:

Achieve College – external advisors are placed in APS high schools to ensure students receive early access to information and assistance to create career goals, apply for college and financial aid and gain experiences that expose them to postsecondary options. Advisors will work in tandem with school counselors and other professionals.

Achieve Graduation — Advisors from post-secondary institutions to provide intensive counseling to students enrolled in APS.

Achieve Atlanta Scholarship and Achieve Atlanta Micro Grants – Last dollar financial assistance to students who have unmet financial needs for college, as well as responsive grants for unexpected needs that arise throughout a student’s college experience.

This partnership helps to support our ability to execute on our mission and vision.

We hear all the time about the students who would have gone to college and completed their degree if they had just had a tiny bit more financial assistance, a better understanding of the application process or an advisor they could trust once on campus.  Achieve Atlanta will make sure we have less of those stories here in Atlanta.

Thank you Achieve Atlanta for your generous donation of time, talents and financial support.

Our CCRPI Results, Our Schools and the Power of ‘Hope’

Yesterday, the Georgia Department of Education released the results of the College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI).  I’m still learning Georgia accountability too so for folks who are in need of some basic guidance, here are my cliff notes on how it breaks down: For background, you may remember, (but I wasn’t here), that Georgia was one of 10 states granted a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act in February 2012. The new accountability system, the CCRPI, was released May 2013.  This system replaced the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), providing the district with more comprehensive data about the academic performance of our students and our schools.

This is how it works:

1) All of the schools in the state are rated on a 100 point scale and 2) Our overall score is made up of Achievement (60% of the total CCRPI score), Progress (25% of the total CCRPI score points possible) and  Achievement Gap (15% of the total CCRPI score points possible). That’s it in a nutshell.

So how did we do?  Overall, APS scored 62.5, a 2.8 point decrease from the 2013 score and 9.4 points lower than Georgia. Although the state score for high schools decreased 3.7 points from 72.0 in 2013 to 68.3 in 2014, scores for APS high schools remained relatively stable, with APS high schools earning 59.3 points in 2014.  Thus, the high school achievement gap between APS and Georgia narrowed 3.6 points. Similarly, while the state score for middle schools declined nearly 2 points, the APS score remained nearly unchanged. APS middle schools scored 65.7, a .1 point decrease from 2013 and 7.4 points lower than the state.  APS elementary schools decreased 5 points compared to 2013 and are 9.4 points below the state. (Note: APS scores by school level include the average exceeding the bar points awarded by the state).

And there were gains…in schools such as Hope Hill Elementary with an increase of 19.5 points from 2013-2014 representing our largest gain accross all schools, Venetian Hills Elementary with an increse of 18.2 points, Brown Middle with an increase of 14.3 points and South Atlanta Law and Justice with an increase of 16.3 points.  This is only a snapshot, we had a total of 42 schools with gains on the CCRPI between 2013-2014.

An exciting story is unfolding over at Hutchinson Elementary where the school achieved its second consecutive year of sustained growth in its overall CCRPI! Go Tigers!  In 2012, the school’s CCRPI was 42.8.  In 2013, the index rose to 55 and this year Hutchinson achieved a CCRPI of 67.9.  Hutchinson also more than doubled their achievement gap points for narrowing the gap between the lowest 25th percentile and the state mean.

Other APS schools did a great job too. I am also proud of a number of APS elementary and middle schools that scored in the top 25% of APS schools:

Elementary Schools – Morningside, Jackson, Brandon, Lin, Neighborhood Charter School, Springdale, Charles Drew Charter School, West Manor, Smith, Garden Hills, Kindezi, Burgess-Peterson Elementary School, Rivers Elementary School, and Venetian Hills Elementary Schools.

Middle Schools – KIPP Strive Academy, Charles Drew Charter School, Inman Middle School, Atlanta Charter Middle School, KIPP West Atlanta Young Scholars Academy, and Sutton Middle School.

In addition, a number of APS high schools scored above the state average:

High Schools – Early College High School at Carver, The School of the Arts at Carver, North Atlanta High School, Booker T. Washington Early College, Grady High School, South Atlanta Law and Social Justice School, South Atlanta School of Health and Medical Science, and Charles Drew Charter School.

Please congratulate our staff and students for working so hard at their schools.

But still, at face value, the overall test scores give me pause. We have a long way to go to ensure every student in every school is able to achieve at high levels. What I know from experience and best practice – and share in viewpoint with outstanding educators everywhere – is that success can’t be measured by just test scores. Students will perform better in a culture that is less about correcting deficits and identifying weaknesses, and more about playing to and capitalizing on their strengths and providing opportunities to develop practical skills and have rich experiences. In other words, it’s a third, a third, and a third. It takes all three parts. And when you do that, students feel hopeful and engaged, which leads to academic success. We actually need to inspire students and help them feel hopeful about their future.

Studies show that hope is a stronger predictor of college success than test scores or GPAs.

When students have hope, they show up for school. When they show up, they’re more engaged. When they’re engaged, they stay in school. When they stay, they learn more. When they learn, they want to graduate on time. And when they graduate, they have real choices to pursue not only college and careers, but most importantly, a calling that will make them happy and fulfilled.

You can take a deep dive into the CCRPI data by visiting our district’s website HERE.  You can also take a look at the result from the state HERE.

Read more about Hutchinson ES at

Student Growth Percentiles released by GaDOE

Having worked in different states, I have learned that no two are alike when it comes to their approaches in accountability. There are always nuances. For example, in Georgia, there has been extensive work on measuring student growth.  The general idea is that it not enough to know how well a student scored on a test or assessment…part of the assessment of whether a student is reaching their full learning potential and growing academically from year to year is about tracking their growth.  So, here, growth matters.  The expectation is that teachers use the data to see if they are being effective with students in their classrooms from year to year, principals use the data to determine if their students are growing in similar fashion to other students in the school, and the district uses the data to measure whether academically similar students are growing at the same rate throughout the city.

The 2014 Student Growth Percentiles (SGP) were released earlier today to the public by the GA Department of Education.  Parents may remember that Georgia was one of 10 states granted a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act in February 2012. The state created a new accountability system called the College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI), which was released May 2013. The Index shows how schools are performing in a more comprehensive manner than the pass/fail system previously in place under Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). The SGP results are components of both the teacher and leader evaluations and the CCRPI, representing 25 of the 100 points on the CCRPI, and they are designed to measure student growth during the academic year.

SGPs are great because they can measure growth in students, groups, schools and entire districts. The SGPs we received today are calculated based on the performance of students on the CRCT in grades 4 – 8 and the EOCT in grades 9 – 12 compared to the performance of academically similar students across the state.  A student’s growth percentile can range from 1 to 99.

Soon, APS parents will receive individualized student growth reports for students who were enrolled in courses with SGP results in the 2013-14 school year.  If you have questions about your child’s report, please take a moment to sit with your school’s principal or counselor and they will help you interpret the data.  You can also learn more about growth and how to interpret scores by visiting the APS website What is Growth and SGP or view the video at the end of this blog.

Now for today’s results:

Tables 1 and 2 below detail the results of our entire district by content area, grade level, and high school course. Please note that the results should be interpreted as follows: “Our students in grade 5 mathematics grew more than 40% of their academically similar peers across the state.”

Table 1. 2014 student growth percentiles for Atlanta Public Schools, grades 4 – 8

Grade  Level Reading ELA Math Science Social Studies
4 58 46 47 46 40
5 46 46 40 48 52
6 63 41 61 40 50
7 59 59 33 52 41
8 52 39 46 52 48

Table 2. 2014 student growth percentiles for Atlanta Public Schools, high schools

Course SGP
Ninth Grade Literature & Composition 50
American Literature & Composition 46
Coordinate Algebra 46
Analytic Geometry 51
Biology 45
Physical Science 48
US History 38
Economics 52

We expect the state to publicly release the CCRPI next week. Stay tuned for more information.