School officials not upset with test score

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 12, 2000

Managing Editor

Jan. 11, 2000 10 PM

Pike County School officials believe there is room for improvement in county schools, but aren’t concerned about the system’s recent "C" score on the state education report card.

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"When students are scoring at or beyond their ability index, we feel that they have done well," said Pike County Superintendent of Education Dr. John Key. "I have never been in favor of using this arbitrary method of comparing schools. When we use this as an indicator of success in the schools, we are not comparing apples to apples."

Because of the many differences in the state’s schools, Key believes that an arbitrary benchmark for success does not reflect the diversity of the schools.

"Some schools are funded at a higher level and others have social and economic factors that weigh in on their success," Key said. "This is almost like judging a person’s worth by the way they look or solely based on their IQ score."

Key believes a fairer standard should be applied and schools should be judged based on their own merit, versus an overall "average" that has schools competing against one another for ranking.

"I would like to see the state look at the ability index of the students and measure a school’s success based on that and on other criteria that studies have shown have a direct correlation to student scores," he said.

Because these averages shift from year to year based on the success of other schools, Key says each system is shooting at a floating target from year to year.

In a narrative written by Dr. Mark Bazzell, assistant superintendent of Pike County Schools, Bazzell writes, "It seems schools should be proud of the job they are doing when achievement exceeds ability. It also seems that the schools should be disappointed when achievement falls below ability. In Alabama we fail to include this factor in our assessment of schools and this is fundamentally unfair."

Key agrees.

"We are not doing as badly as what is being touted out there," Key said. "Certainly, we stand to improve in many areas, but we have to view the data in its entirety to make that determination, and not in part based on a few, limited criteria."

Key said Alabama continues to fight a battle for funding for its schools that have seen decreased levels of funding since World War II.

"That’s not to say that there’s less money, but there is a fallacy out there that schools are funded at a higher level each year," Key said. "This is not the case when you look at the amount of new money going to the schools each year and the addition of programs that come from the state and federal government that cost money to implement.

"We often hear that these program will cost nothing, but there are virtually no programs out there that don’t require additional resources when they are implemented."

In line with Key’s message is data that comes from the Alabama Department of Education that shows two of the lowest scoring school districts in the state when it comes to poverty level students neighbor Pike County.

Barbour County School System has 90.79 percent of its students qualifying for free or reduced lunches, while Bullock County has just over 91 percent. Pike County is in the bottom quarter of the state, with an 80 percent level.

"There is no doubt that poverty is a factor when it comes to education," Key said. "This is something that has been proven time and time again."

In contrast, Mountain Brook City Schools zeroed out in the category.

Key believes that until the playing field is level, the results of the test will be skewed.

"To us, a ‘C’ score is in many cases like an ‘A’ or a ‘B’ in other districts," he said. "It could be better, we believe, but it is certainly nothing that we are ashamed of considering all the factors involved."

The score of "C" came from the Stanford Achievement Test Average Battery for grades 3-11. It was, Key said, not a surprise.

"There was really nothing in that report that we were not prepared for," he said "All in all, it looks as we expected it would."

The score this year is in line with the scores over the two previous years. From 1997 to 1999, the score fell from an overall average of 46 to 45. The fall came in 1998, but had no effect on the "C" rating.

The critical area of failure on the test was a rating of an "F" based on American College Test (ACT) scores. The system scored an average of 16.7, which contrasted sharply with the national average of 21 and the state average of 20.2.

Another critical area was the fall in enrollment from 1997 to 1999 by nearly 200 students to 2,376 last year.

Areas of optimism include the number of seniors passing the High School Exit Exam. Although first attempt students scored from a "C+" in reading to a "D-" in math, with a "D+" falling in the middle in language, the overall number of students who passed exceeded the state average.

Among all students taking the test, the system boasts an "A-" in reading, an "A-" in language and a "B+" in math.

"We are certainly not alarmed by the results," Key said. "We do see room for improvement in virtually all areas."