The state education department released data from its school accountability system Thursday — an annual announcement of which schools met their academic requirements under the federal education law, and which missed the mark.
This year’s results held some surprises. In Oxford, three schools — Oxford High, Oxford Middle and C.E. Hanna — all failed to meet state academic goals. Anniston High saw a boost in reading scores, meeting state requirements in that area for the first time in eight years (though math scores there slipped some). And some area schools continued to struggle to bring special education students up to speed.
Special ed struggles
Kitty Stone Elementary in Jacksonville was red-flagged for reading scores for kids in special education. Superintendent Jon Paul Campbell said that’s a first for Jacksonville schools.
He also said the school system saw the problem coming. Teachers spotted an issue in special ed students’ scores last year, Campbell said, though the problem never showed up in state reports.
No Child Left Behind requires schools to track the performance of a number of subgroups of students — including students on free and reduced lunches, black students, Hispanic students, and students in special education. But if a school has fewer than 40 students in any group, their numbers aren’t tracked separately by the state.
Kitty Stone didn’t have 40 special education students last year, Campbell said, but the school began working with the students it had, and brought up scores by about 1 percent.
“There was improvement, but not enough to meet AYP,” Campbell said.
In the Calhoun County Schools system, special education students failed to meet state goals in three areas, school officials say. But the system’s top administrators are still pleased with the results of the standardized tests because special education students did make significant gains in other areas.
Those gains — in elementary school reading, elementary school math and high school math — were enough to ensure the system, as a whole, met Adequate Yearly Progress goals for this academic year, a goal it didn’t make the year before.
“We have made such huge gains,” Deputy Superintendent Ed Roe said.
Roe said he and other school officials must work to improve instruction for special education students who continue to struggle in some subgroups.
The system, he said, must also take a serious look at Weaver Elementary School — the only school in the system that did not make AYP this year because of special education students’ scores. Weaver Elementary is in “school improvement,” school system administrators said. That designation is given to schools that fail to meet state goals for two years in a row.
Despite Weaver’s situation, Calhoun County officials saw this year’s results as good news. Last year three schools in the Calhoun County system failed to make AYP.
“We’ve been doing the happy dance because all of our schools but one made AYP,” said Karen Winn, also a deputy superintendent for the system.
Too big not to fail?
Oxford Middle School missed state goals for special ed students, and so did C.E. Hanna Elementary. Oxford High School failed to make AYP because scores for black students and students on free lunch were too low.
Roy Bennett, head of student services for Oxford City Schools, said he’s more worried about the outcomes of those individual students than he is about making AYP.
“Our focus right now is on getting those students ready for the graduation exam,” Bennett said. “Graduating and being ready for the world is what really matters to the students.”
Bennett says because Oxford’s schools are so big, it was only a matter of time before a subgroup missed the mark. Some smaller schools don’t have enough black or Hispanic students to report, he said, while Oxford High has 20 measures to report on.
“As big as we are, this was going to happen sooner or later,” he said.
No matter what the cause, this year’s results didn’t come with quite the sense of urgency that attended past releases of state data. For years, the release of state numbers was like a reverse Olympics, with the whole state watching as state officials released of a list of Alabama’s seemingly lowest-performing schools.
But 2012 may be the last year that happens. More than half the states have been granted waivers that exempt them from the requirements of No Child Left Behind. Alabama is seeking a waiver too, and state officials have already proposed a new system, called Plan 2020, that would supplant the Bush-era testing regime.
Also this year, schools were allowed to announce their results on their own terms. Instead of releasing all the data at once, state school officials allowed individual school systems to announce their results as soon as they were ready, said Malissa Valdes-Hubert, spokeswoman for the Alabama State Board of Education.
That allowed Anniston City Schools officials to announce earlier this week that Anniston High had met reading goals this year for the first time in eight years. The school’s reading efficiency rate improved 22 percent, administrators said, though there was a 4 percent drop in the number of students who met math requirements.
A new system
Bennett and Jacksonville’s Campbell both say they’re looking forward to the state’s proposed new system, Plan 2020.
State Education Department documents say Plan 2020 will be focused on preparing students for college and the work force. Bennett and other school officials say that will likely mean less focus on the current tests and more focus on preparing students for the ACT or other college entrance exams, which will mean a focus on a different set of skills.
“Right now we’re getting a fixed set of data points,” Bennett said. “The ACT is more a problem-solving type of test.”
Campbell said he hoped a new system would include some form of repeat testing that would allow teachers to track what individual students learn over the school year — instead of testing students and comparing them to last year’s class.
“If we could look at the student at the beginning of the year and the end of the year, we’d get a clearer picture,” he said.
Staff writer Laura Camper contributed to this report.
LOCAL SCHOOLS THAT DID NOT MEET STATE ACADEMIC GOALS
B.B. Comer High
Tenth Street Elementary
Kitty Stone Elementary