Grad rate could land schools on ‘priority list’

Published 11:30 pm Friday, June 14, 2013

Editor’s note: This is the last in a series of articles exploring graduation rates and their impact on local schools.

With the shift away from Adequate Yearly Progress benchmarks to new measures of performance, local schools are trying to determine how graduation rates will affect their status.

“Graduation rates do not affect the ‘failing schools’ list,” said Michael Sibley, director of communications for the Alabama Department of Education. “But they can land on a school on the ‘priority list.’”

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As the state shifts away from using the No Child Left Behind benchmarks for measuring performance through Adequate Yearly Progress, two separate measures for performance are emerging: a failing schools list and a priority schools list. Even Sibley says the duality can be “confusing. But we’re doing the best we can” to interpret and explain, he said.

The “failing schools” list is a product of the Alabama Accountability Act passed earlier this year in the Legislature. That law provides a $3,500 per child tax credit for parents to help transfer their children out of schools labeled as failing and has been hotly debated among parents, lawmakers and educators.

“Under the law, failing schools are currently defined as schools that have been listed three or more times in the last six years in the lowest six percent of schools based on their reading and math assessments,” Sibley said. In June 2017, the state will shift to a report card grading system and schools which score three “Ds” or an “F” will be considered failing.

The education department was scheduled to announce that list of schools earlier this week but postponed the announcement until 10 a.m. Tuesday, citing a “legal inquiry” that had to be answered before the list was finalized. Sibley did not elaborate on the details.

The “priority schools” list is defined by the state education department using a more complex set of criteria, which is still awaiting approval from the U.S. Department of Education.

“In order to have us move away from No Child Left Behind, we came up with a different accountability system. Forty-four other states have done the same thing,” Sibley said.

In his Plan 2020, state Superintendent Tommy Bice defines priority schools as those who are “stuck,” Sibley said. “That means they aren’t showing any progress and need some intervention.”

While the priority list criteria does consider year-over-year progress in several different areas, Sibley said a low cohort graduation rate could land a school on the priority list.

“The priority school listing benchmark is 60 percent,” he said. “So if a school’s graduation rate is under 60 percent, it could very well be on the list.”

Graduation rates at both high schools in the Pike County system were above that benchmark, with Goshen High School at 71 percent and Pike County High at 64 percent.

The graduation rate at Charles Henderson High School, the only high school in the Troy City Schools, was listed as 58 percent in the statistics released this week by the state department. However, Superintendent Lee Hicks said the district had identified several reporting errors and was working with the state to revise the numbers. “We could see it go up to 66 percent,” he said, adding that even that rate is “not acceptable” for the district.

The cohort graduation rate tracks a group of students from ninth grade through graduation and measures the percentage of students who graduate on time with their class. Students who drop out, transfer without providing enrollment records, fail a grade, seek a GED or earn a certificate, or miss a year of school due to medical or personal issues all negatively affect the cohort graduation rate.

“It’s a more rigid definition” of the graduation rate, Sibley said. The measurement has been adopted by all 50 states and seeks to create parity in measuring and comparing performance.