LAWRENCEVILLE - Berkmar High School was recognized in 2008 by the College Board as one of the three best schools in the nation.
For the past two years, the Lilburn school has made Newsweek's list of America's top public high schools.
So why, some have asked, has Berkmar received such accolades when it hasn't made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) under federal guidelines since 2005?
First of all, Newsweek's formula has nothing to do with AYP, a cornerstone of the federal No Child Left Behind Act that measures year-to-year student achievement on state assessments. Secondly, a school isn't "bad" if it misses the mark on AYP, Gwinnett County Public Schools officials said.
"AYP is one of many ways for measuring the effectiveness of schools," Berkmar High School principal Ken Johnson said. "It's the one that receives the most scrutiny and attention because it's federally mandated."
But AYP is not a complete picture of how a school is performing, Johnson said. Its focus - at least at the high school level - is on the Georgia High School Graduation Test, which is taken by 11th-graders.
"Just like we determine how well a student is doing based on many, many measures ... schools should be evaluated in a similar measure," Johnson said.
Looking at several measures - AYP results, Gateway scores, Newsweek rankings - will give a more complete picture of a school's effectiveness, Johnson said.
Johnson said it's noteworthy that Berkmar has wiped out the deficiencies in the areas that caused the school to miss making AYP last year - math for economically disadvantaged and Hispanic students and English/language arts for Hispanic students.
This year, all Gwinnett County schools achieved the academic performance goals used to determine AYP, according to the state's initial report released last week. The three high schools that did not make AYP - Berkmar, Central Gwinnett and Phoenix - fell short because of the second indicator: the graduation rate.
Berkmar and Central were so close to hitting the required 75 percent graduation rate that district officials said they are hopeful the schools will make AYP in the state's final report, which will include summer school graduates and scores from students who retook state exams. Berkmar's graduation rate was 74.5 percent - three graduates shy of making AYP in the initial report. Central's rate was 72.7 percent, about 13 graduates short.
Students are considered graduates if they finish high school in four years and a summer, GCPS Chief Academic Officer Steve Flynt said. If a student leaves school and the district doesn't know where he or she went, that student is counted as a dropout - even if he or she gets a GED and enrolls in college, Flynt said.
Furthermore, Flynt said, students who do not graduate within four years and a summer are coded as dropouts - a measurement that does not bode well for Phoenix High, a nontraditional high school that exists to help students who weren't successful in a traditional setting.
The initial AYP report shows Phoenix had a graduation rate 42.6 percent, an increase over last year's 41.2 percent.
"Because of their circumstances, we have so many different children who come and go from Phoenix," Flynt said. "It's a great opportunity for our system. But because they have a full-time job or a number of other issues, they may leave school for a semester. We don't want that to be the end of their opportunity to finish high school."
The graduation rate as it is currently defined "may not be one of the best indicators when looking at an educational opportunity such as Phoenix," Flynt said.
"It's important to look at all the indicators that come up," Flynt said. "There are so many ways that a school can achieve."