ALBANY -- In the final action of the 2012 Georgia General Assembly, the Senate passed SB 410 by a 38-16 vote Thursday evening, clearing the way for a new method of evaluating Georgia's public schools.
The bill, which would implement a new five-star grading system for the state's schools, now goes to the governor's desk.
The new school grading system is a result of the state's recent federal waiver from the No Child Left Behind Law, effectively doing away with AYP (annual yearly progress).
Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, who voted against the bill, did not return calls requesting comment on Friday.
Asked his thoughts on the bill's passage, Dougherty County School Superintendent Joshua Murfree refused to comment.
"This is my private cell number and I am on vacation with my family," he said when contacted Friday. "I will talk to you Monday when I get back into the office."
The Herald obtained Murfree's "private" cell number when he announced it twice during a recent town hall meeting in the Westover High School Auditorium, inviting the crowd to "call me at any time."
According to the bill, schools will be graded on "annual indicators of the quality of learning by students, financial efficiency and school climate for individual schools and for school systems; to provide for individual school and school system numerical score ratings based on student achievement, achievement gap closure and student progress; to require that a letter grade be assigned to each school and school system and included on school and school system report cards; to revise provisions relating to awards and interventions; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting laws, and for other purposes. "
Schools will be ranked by stars; five stars is the top ranking and one star signals unsatisfactory performance.
"In some ways, I think here in Lee County AYP actually helped us, but from here on out it (achieving AYP) was going to be really tough for some school districts," Lee County School Superintendent Larry Walters said. "I think we'd reached a point where it was time for a change and take a look for other ways to hold school systems accountable."
In addition to using a star system, the new bill will also rate schools numerically. The bill states: "The office, in coordination with the Department of Education, shall establish and annually calculate individual school and school system ratings, which shall be a numerical score on a scale of 0-100, for each public school and school system in this state based on the indicators of quality of learning adopted pursuant to this Code section for student achievement, achievement gap closure, and student progress with a majority of the score based on student achievement."
Education reform advocacy group StudentsFirst Executive Director Tim Melton was pleased with the bill's passage.
"Georgia took a vital step toward empowering parents and students today," Melton said. "I applaud Sen. Tommie Williams and Georgia lawmakers for putting kids' needs ahead of any other interests, and I congratulate StudentsFirst members who called for providing parents with this vital information about their children's schools."