The State of Alabama isn’t a consistent grader.
A comparison of the state’s “failing” schools list and its education report cards show a wide disparity in how schools are labeled across the Yellowhammer State.
Seventy-five schools are labeled as “failing” under the Alabama Accountability Act, but the state says 104 schools earned an “F” on their education report cards. Of those 104 schools that received Fs, only 37 are labelled as “failing” under the act.
Lawmakers passed the Alabama Accountability Act in 2013 to encourage students zoned for schools labeled as “failing” — those that score in the bottom 6 percent on certain test scores — to transfer to other schools through the use of tax-credit funded scholarships.
State education report cards, on the other hand, are the result of a 2012 law that brought Alabama into compliance with a federal push for transparency measures like A through F report cards. School report cards were finally released in February after years of delay.
Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, was a sponsor of the report card legislation in Alabama and also supported the Alabama Accountability Act.
Collins said Friday she doesn’t see any issue with the inconsistency in labels.
“These are just totally separate things,” she said. “The Accountability Act is just based on a single test score. The report card grades are based on many different contributing factors.”
Collins said that report card scores take into consideration factors like attendance and college preparation indicators that make the evaluation holistic.
She said that when it comes to the Accountability Act, income is more of a determining factor than a school being labelled “failing” under the law.
“It’s really about income level,” Collins said.
She told The Star that if a parent with a student attending a school given an “F” on their education report card wanted funding to leave the school under the AAA, they would be able to receive it.
That’s not necessarily the case, however. The AAA requires scholarship-granting organizations to prioritize funding for those students zoned for schools labelled as “failing.”
Angela Morgan, director of UniServ District 14 for the Alabama Education Association, said Friday that the inconsistency in school evaluation is due to not having educators involved in the process.
“When you have non-educators deciding how to evaluate schools and students, you run into these problems,” she said.
Morgan said the inconsistency can be explained by thinking about evaluating a car.
“A mechanic can look at a car with a good engine and a horrible paint job and say ‘this is a great car,’” she said. “Another person might see a great paint job, and even if the engine is horrible, they may say the same thing.”
Generally, Morgan said, the education report cards factor in more data than the Accountability Act labels do, but they’re not perfect, either.
“It’s wrong to label schools this way,” Morgan said. “Evaluations should look at things like growth and student generated work, not just test scores. Students shouldn’t be treated like dogs running an obstacle course.”
Morgan said “failing” labels can also be problematic more generally.
“They’re not failures,” she said of students attending schools labeled as such.
At least one Alabama government report agrees with Wilson that her school isn’t “failing.”
Although Anniston High School is listed as “failing” under the AAA, it received a “D” on its education report card.
Conversely, Tenth Street Elementary in Anniston received an “F” on its report card, but is not a “failing” school. Stemley Road Elementary in Talladega County is in the same situation.
A place where Morgan, Wilson, and Collins may have common ground, though, is on removing the term “failing” from the AAA.
“We tried to change that labelling a couple of years ago,” Collins said. “It didn’t pass, but I supported it.”