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A later school start date being considered
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School might be starting later in Bryan County in the years to come if a new proposal from the Georgia Department of Education is passed.

State Superintendent Kathy Cox will propose on Friday that Georgia school systems all start the year in late August to the Georgia School Board Association.

It would result in all schools taking the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCTs) and summer retests around the same time. Georgia just recently received permission from the U.S. Department of Education to use retest scores for its calculations.

"What the superintendent is saying is, if we have this flexibility from the government, we should set up the system to allow retests to count toward AYP," said Dana Tofig, director of communications at the Department of Education, who also noted it wouldn’t happen until at least the 2010-2011 school year if it’s accepted. "Right now, we do our initial annual yearly progress (AYP) determinations from the spring data and all the consequences come from those results."

Retests generally have better results, Tofig said. Under the No Child Left Behind Act all students in grades 3-8 to take the CRCTs each year and a certain percentage must pass. That requirement is factored into whether or not a school is determined to have met AYP and if it repeatedly does not, consequences range from providing free tutoring, choice of schools, to the worst-case scenario of the state taking over a school.

"For summer CRCT retests to count in the final AYP determination, the state must have standardization for testing dates," Tofig said. "This is just the start of a conversation with the schools and the School Board Association. If we do decide to go forward with this and school systems are okay with it, that flexibility with the starting schedule would no longer be there."

But Superintendent Dr. Sallie Brewer said that flexibility is important.

"The state school superintendent in an earlier communication polled local school superintendents regarding a uniform start date. While I do not have the response figures, I did receive something reporting that local superintendents by majority objected," Brewer said. "This is an issue which should be determined by a local board of education based on the needs of the particular community. There is already a state calendar for testing which sets the ‘window’ during which local systems must administer particular tests."

Brewer noted that while schools would not be added to the ‘Did Not Meet’ AYP list if their retests brought them up to requirements, they would still have to provide tutorial services and choice of schools.

Laura Gray, president of the Bryan County Parents Action Coalition, started the group two years ago as a result of parents who wanted to change the county’s start date.

"I tried to go through the chains of command and asked Dr. Brewer if she would look at some of the data that’s out there and consider either a late August or early September start date, but she would not," Gray said.

Gray said studies show children who get a break over the holidays and then have a week of review before testing actually do better.

"There are a number of benefits," she said. "We don’t have to keep doing things the way we’ve been doing them…it keeps us on the cutting edge to look at ways to make things better."

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