The first letter grade report card day for Alabama’s schools and school systems – much like report card days for school students – brought celebration, disappointment and some strong reactions.
Alabama schools’ report cards were released Thursday morning by the Alabama State Department of Education and, for the first time, gave letter grades to Alabama’s 1,247 public schools and 137 school systems.
For metro Birmingham school systems, the report cards covered the spectrum. Homewood, Hoover, Mountain Brook, Trussville and Vestavia Hills scored As. Birmingham, Bessemer, Fairfield, Midfield and Tarrant scored Ds. No school system made an F.
Jefferson County Schools, the second-largest school system in the state with 56 schools, scored a C, the same letter grade as the state school system. But, that C and the whole idea of a letter grade didn’t sit well with Dr. Craig Pouncey, county school superintendent, and other school leaders.
Superintendents across the state have criticized the letter grade report cards as too narrow and too reliant on one standardized test, the ACT Aspire, which is not even being used by the state going forward. They also have complained that the one letter grade is not a full or accurate measure of school performance. Marion, Chambers County and some other systems have voted no confidence in the report cards, and more system officials have criticized them.
State Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, who sponsored the law requiring the report cards, has noted the concern expressed by school leaders.
“The grades are not a penalty but an easier way for parents to know how schools are performing,” she said.
JeffCo Releases Its Own Report Card
To underscore concerns about the report cards, Jefferson County school officials sent their own, more detailed report cards home to parents of the system’s 36,000 students Wednesday afternoon. “We are redefining ready,” said school spokesperson Whitlee Lusk.
The county’s report card is called the Redefining Ready Report Card. A video with the same Redefining Ready campaign title is posted at the Jefferson County school system’s website and on its Facebook page, and each school is creating its own video about how that school is creating opportunities “for students to be college, career and life ready,” Lusk said.
“More than a score,” a saying taken from a national movement opposing high-stakes standardized student testing, also is part of the school system’s social media campaign.
Dr. Lisa Herring, superintendent of Birmingham City Schools, also said that the letter grade report card fails to capture many aspects of student achievement, but she added, “As a district, we own the findings of the Alabama State Department of Education’s A-F Report Card.”
In a statement and action plan posted on the city school’s website, Herring said, “We accept these finding as a benchmark, and declare that this is an indicator of where we are – not where we will remain.”
Birmingham City Schools’ D grade, based on a score of 66, included 14 schools that received Fs, the same 14 BCS schools named to the state’s “failing schools” list released Jan. 24.
“As the leader at Birmingham City Schools, I am encouraged in knowing where we stand in terms of our academic achievement. The clarity this report provides allows me to work in a focused way to move the district forward,” said Herring.
Herring, on the job since May 2017 following several short-term leaders of the school system, said BCS leaders already were developing an action plan to help measure and monitor student achievement across the district. Herring and a mostly new Birmingham Board of Education also are working on strategic planning for the system.
“This state’s report card is but one snapshot of who we are as a district,” Herring said. “Our plans to apply our own set of criteria for measuring success allows us to own our path forward. In some ways our expanded criteria will overlap with those used by the Alabama State Department of Education, and in other ways they will expand to capture elements of student achievement not identified in the report card.”
The Report Cards
Details about the information that went into determining a grade for each school and system are available in a searchable online dashboard on the state system’s site.
The information there includes a letter grade and a score based on each system or school’s performance on standardized tests and other indicators. The indicators and the percentage of each that figured into the letter grades and scores are: academic achievement, 20 percent; academic growth (improvements from past years), 30 percent; graduation rate, 30 percent; college and career readiness, 10 percent; and chronic absenteeism, 10 percent. Chronic absenteeism is defined as the percentage of students absent 15 or more days in a school year. The dashboard is searchable by school system and school.
The letter grade report cards are a new requirement of the Alabama Accountability Act, passed by the state Legislature in 2012. The act also requires a public release of a list “failing schools,” those with students testing at the lowest 6 percent. Parents have the option of transferring students out of failing schools. The Birmingham metro area has 22 on the failing list.
Metro-area school systems and their letter grades and overall scores on Alabama’s report cards are:
Birmingham City Schools:
D, 66 points.
Academic achievement: 38.39 percent; academic growth: 77.20 percent; graduation rate: 77.80; college and career readiness, 48 percent; chronic absenteeism, 28.03
Jefferson County Schools:
C, 77 points.
Academic achievement, 52.40; academic growth, 84.88; graduation rate: 87.80; college and career readiness, 63; chronic absenteeism, 18.73.
Alabaster City Schools:
B, 87 points.
Academic achievement: 69.47; academic growth, 92.55; graduation rate: 96.80; college and career readiness: 76; chronic absenteeism: 12.41
D, 64 points.
Academic achievement, 36.90; academic growth, 76; graduation rate: 78.40; college and career readiness, 28; chronic absenteeism: 21.55.
D, 62 points.
Academic achievement, 29.06; academic growth, 65.55; graduation rate, 84.20; college and career readiness, 40; chronic absenteeism, 10.78.
A, 94 points.
Academic achievement, 89.54; academic growth, 100; graduation rate, 93; college and career readiness, 87; chronic absenteeism, 7.65.
A, 92 points.
Academic achievement, 81.88; academic growth, 100; graduation rate, 93; college and career readiness, 83; chronic absenteeism, 9.77
B, 80 points.
Academic achievement, 55.48; academic growth, 85; graduation rate, 92; college and career readiness, 78; chronic absenteeism, 17.19.
D, 64 points.
Academic achievement, 26.96; academic growth, 70.89; graduation rate, 84.40; college and career readiness, 443, chronic absenteeism, 25.39.
A, 98 points.
Academic achievement, 99.92; academic growth, 100; graduation rate, 97; college and career readiness, 97; chronic absenteeism, 6.93.
Pelham City Schools:
B, 88 points.
Academic achievement, 66.14; academic growth, 95.50; graduation rate, 95.40; college and career readiness, 85; chronic absenteeism, 10.78
Shelby County Schools:
B, 88 points.
Academic achievement, 75.11; academic growth, 95.60; graduation rate, 93; college and career readiness, 79; chronic absenteeism, 14.85.
D, 65 points.
Academic achievement, 36.68; academic growth, 74.27; graduation rate: 81.80; college and career readiness, 34; chronic absenteeism, 26.22.
A, 93 points.
Academic achievement, 84.18; academic growth, 98.09; graduation rate, 96; college and career ready, 87; chronic absenteeism, 9.44.
A, 96 points.
Academic achievement, 96.19; academic growth, 100; graduation rate, 94.80; college and career readiness, 91; chronic absenteeism, 9.23.
A separate education dashboard with federal data on Alabama schools was posted Dec. 30 to meet federal standards. It includes some of the same data released in the state education report card.
The academic achievement and growth indicators on the report card are based on student scores on the ACT Aspire standardized test system, which the state will not be using in 2018. The state board has not selected a replacement for ACT Aspire.
ACT Aspire has been the standard annual reading and math test given to Alabama students in third through eighth grade and to 10th-graders in Alabama. Students in fifth, seventh and 10thgrades are also tested in science in the ACT program.