Fulton Schools Come Off State’s “Needs Improvement” List Today

The state Education Department Wednesday will give Fulton schools a reason to celebrate the opening of a new school year. For the first time since 2001, every building in the district will meet state standards and be listed as “in good standing”.

“We’re very excited to celebrate” the news, said Betsy Conners, Executive Director for Instruction and Assessment, who got the news from the state in advance of an expected public announcement today.

G. Ray Bodley High School and Lanigan Elementary School have been taken off the list of schools “in need of improvement”. Both schools were on the list for test scores in English Language Arts that were below state goals.

The district’s other schools, and the district itself, were already listed as in good standing.

Lanigan made solid improvement in its scores on the ELA exam, closing much of the gap between Lanigan and the district’s three other elementary schools. The high school also safely exceeded its target number.

District-wide, the scores on math and science exams are generally inching close to the state’s ultimate goal of having every child either meet or exceed the state standard.

The Lanigan turnaround is especially significant. Once the highest performing elementary school and, when Conners was its principal, a laboratory for new ideas on school improvement, the building suffered several quick changes of leadership after Conners became an administrator.

“To take a school that was on the brink of restructuring and make it a school in good standing is outstanding,” Conners said.

“We’re not out of the woods by any means,” said Superintendent of Schools Bill Lynch. “But it’s nice to fix things.”

There is still one trouble spot. The district’s performance with students who have disabilities remains low. The district’s test scores for students with disabilities did not meet state standards, but showed enough progress to allow the district to come off the “in need of improvement” lists. Minimum test scores for children with disabilities will increase again this year, so the pressure’s on to continue the improvement with that group of students.

While 72% of all students and 58% of low income students graduated on time in 2009, only 34% of students with disabilities graduated on time. That’s 20 points under the state standard, but double the rate of graduation for Fulton students with disabilities from the year before.

District officials believe their change of strategy to a medical model — identifying the causes of learning problems and prescribing individual solutions — is working.

“We need to get to the root causes of why students are not successful,” Conners said. “What is it that we need to prescribe to students?”

“In order to get to excellence, there are some areas we’re going to have to watch,” she said.