ALSDE school report card, truer proficiency portrait than “failing school” list

Published 5:39 pm Monday, November 21, 2022

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Three area schools — Butler County’s Greenville High School and Central Elementary School and Central High School in Lowndes County — fell among the 79 Alabama schools ranked as the lowest performing 6% on the Alabama Accountability Act of 2015 (AAA) list for school year 2021-2022.

School systems representatives say the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) Report Card released on Friday gives a more accurate accounting of public-school proficiency.

Butler County received a C, with an overall score of 76 on the ALSDE Report Card for the 2021-2022 school year. Lowndes County schools rated a C as well, earning a score of 74.

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“The Alabama Accountability Act is a legislative measure that has nothing to do with the State Department of Education,” explained Butler County Public Schools Superintendent Joseph Eiland. “[Ranking on the list] is based on only one indicator, a student’s score on the ACT.”

Lowndes County Public Schools Superintendent Jason Burroughs said the report card considers more than just academic proficiency. It also looks at academic growth, an indicator which shows what a teacher has done over the course of the year.

Butler County’s Greenville High School earned a D on the ALSDE Report Card, with a score of 60. In spite of the low score, the high school experienced 76.1% academic growth and a 75.16% graduation rate.

In Lowndes County, Central Elementary School in Hayneville scored a D, an overall grade of 60, but proved academic growth of 78.4%. Central High School also received a D, but a higher score of 69, 100% growth and 77.78% graduation rate.

“Look at the report card and the enormous growth that is happening across our district and how the improvement is occurring,” Eiland said. “This is an indicator that we’re on the right track and we’re doing all the right things.”

The annual lowest performing list is a requirement of the AAA, which calls for measuring students’ performance on English language arts and math assessments to define “failing schools” as those falling in the bottom 6% of public Alabama schools.

According to Burroughs, the list gauges students’ performance on standardized tests. Third, fourth, and fifth grade classes take the Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program (ACAP) and high school juniors test using the ACT college admissions test.

Juniors must score at least 19 on Math as well as English and Language Arts sections, Burroughs added, and according to Eiland, many factors can impact the results.

“If students have a preconceived notion that they aren’t going to college, they believe they don’t have to do well on that test. It’s not important to them,” Eiland said. 

The ACT is a timed test, Eiland noted. Students who finish quickly and don’t take the test seriously don’t score well.

“As educators, administrators, and teachers, we have to do a much better job of instilling the importance of doing well. The test is a part of their permanent record and it does follow them.”

Greenville High School also experienced high truancy rates during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Students who missed school were naturally behind, Eiland noted, but those numbers are steadily improving.

“I am completely confident that the [failing school] designation will turn around,” said Eiland. “The ALSDE Report Card is the one we look at, the one that makes a difference. We are excited about our growth and achievement.”

Lowndes County schools experienced challenges too. Burroughs attributes the elementary school’s low proficiency to last year’s teacher shortage.

At Central Elementary, all classes are now fully staffed with certified teachers or teachers on approved tracks toward certification. At Central High, specialists are working with students and teachers to provide instruction and strategies on preparing students for the assessment.

“We’re going to work hard to improve so schools can come off the list,” Burroughs declared. “I feel very confident that those schools won’t be on that list next year.”