State issues ‘report card’ for schools

Published 3:00 am Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Alabama Department of Education has released phase one of its two-phase measurement system to determine what areas public schools are succeeding in and what areas need improvement.

The assessment takes into account graduation rates and proficiency in the areas of reading and math utilizing tested grades. That is to say, students are given tests in the two subject and the results are analyzed for each school.

For elementary schools and middle schools, the graduation rate metric is replaced with the “learning gains” metric, which is based on students showing improvement from one year to the next in reading and math using multiple years of data.

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Among local area schools, Charles Henderson High School had the highest graduation rate at 88 percent.

“We strive for that,” said Troy City Schools Superintendent Lee Hicks. “Our graduation rates weren’t that good when I arrived– we were scoring in the 70s range. Now we’re in the 80s and even getting close to the 90s.

“It takes a lot of work to prevent young people from deciding not to graduate. We have several stop-gaps in place to prevent young people who are thinking of dropping out where they have to meet with counselors, administrators and even myself. Many of our students have graduated and succeeded because they’ve fought through those trying times.”

Pike County High School comes in just behind CHHS with an 87 percent graduation rate, and Goshen High School finishes third with a graduation rate of 84 percent.

“We’re pleased with the results and progress that we’ve made,” said Pike County Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Bazzell. “I think we have a very good plan in place and I appreciate our faculty members that work hard to accomplish it.”

All three schools are within five percentage points of the state average of 89 percent.

One standout from the results shows that Troy Elementary School has a 74 percent proficiency in math, 11 percentage points higher than the state average. That number drops down to 40 percent at Charles Henderson Middle School and even further to just 19 percent at CHHS, 44 percentage points under the state average and a 55 percent drop from elementary school.

Hicks explained that one thing they found when analyzing the data is that communication issues between the three schools led to some inconsistencies in the teaching of math.

“Something that we noticed was that we needed to improve on the communication between schools,” Hicks said. “Sixth grade teachers need to be able to talk to seventh grade teachers and eighth grade teachers to ninth and tenth. Once we started to communicate like this, we noticed that there were concepts being taught in seventh that haven’t even been covered since fifth. So we need to improve the consistency of what’s being taught.”

Pike County Schools had a similar trend. Goshen Elementary and Pike County Elementary had scores of 79 and 77 respectively in math proficiency, but Goshen High School’s score in the same area dropped to 45 and Pike County High School’s score dropped to 46. Banks School had a 77 score in math.

It’s unclear if the two PCS high schools include scores from seventh, eighth and tenth grades or just tenth. CHHS scores only count tenth grade scoring, so its results aren’t directly comparable with PCS schools.

In reading, PCES had a proficiency score of 57, which dropped to 53 for PCHS. GES had a score of 68 which dropped off to a 48 for GHS. Banks had a score of 64.

For the Troy system, TES had a score of 46, CHMS had a score of 51, and CHHS had a score of 40.

The average reading proficiency percentage for the state was 56.

Learning gains for all of the elementary and middle schools weren’t far behind the state average of 89 for reading and math. TES scored 82.69, CHMS scored 83.53, PCES scored 89.18, Banks scored 92.83 and GES scored 93.25.

Another thing that stood out for Hicks is that third grade students didn’t perform as well as some of the higher grades, but he attributed some of that to the students having to take standardized tests for the first time.

“Third grade struggled in certain areas but this is the first time they were able to take a standardized test,” Hicks said. “We have to work on teaching test-taking skills earlier.”

One indicator that will be measured for the high schools next year in phase two of the project will be college and career readiness. Both school systems have shown a focus on getting ready for that measurement in the years to come.

“Also we’re looking at how many are college and career ready,” Hicks said. “I feel like we’ve grown in that capacity by being able to put more students in those courses as well as receiving college courses. Also if they elect to join the military they can be classified as college and career ready.”

“We’ve got a lot of new initiatives with expansion of academy programs and we’ve got 109 students set to graduate with associate’s degrees,” Bazzell said. “This year we started our fifth and sixth grade and seventh and eighth grade STEM cohort groups and added the Exercise Science and Health Academy and the Health Inofrmation Management Academy.”

Hicks said that it’s important to remember that a lot of these assessments are new and different than the way that it has been done in the past, so schools are trying to analyze the data and adjust accordingly as best as they can.

“We anticipate every year there will be strengths and declines and we’re constantly chasing a moving target,” Hicks said. “Things will change nationally. There was a real push against common core. This could all be wiped away with the click of a pen in a few months with what the president or legislators decide to do. Sometimes the state can’t even explain what the target is. You have to look at it constantly and you have to live it.”

One issue Hicks brought up is that some students are labeled as “close,” which could mean that they’re just one point away from falling into the “ready” or “proficient” category, but this set of data don’t show that detail

For example a much more detailed breakdown reveals that 60 percent of this year’s sixth grade students at TES are projected “ready” (on track) to make a grade of 22 or higher on the math section of the ACT. It also shows that another 34 percent are “close.” Only 6 percent remain that fall into the “in need of support” category.

The full grades for phase 1 of the accountability system for all Alabama public schools can be found at  The final letter grades will come out in December 2017.