Anniston High School has landed on Alabama’s list of “failing” schools for the second year in a row, state school officials revealed this week.
City Schools Superintendent Darren Douthitt said he wishes the state had a better way of identifying schools in need of help — and clearer guidance for schools on how to stay off the list.
“It’s difficult for me to understand how you can stamp an entire school as failing,” Douthitt said.
Every year, roughly 75 schools land on the “failing” list, a tally of schools in the bottom 6 percent for school performance statewide. The list is mandated as part of the Alabama Accountability Act, a 2013 state law that grants students in failing schools the option of transferring to another school system or going to a private school with tax credits to help defray the cost of tuition.
A separate provision of the law gives businesses and individual taxpayers a tax credit if they donate to nonprofits that give private-school scholarships to low- and moderate-income kids, no matter what school they’re zoned for. So far, those scholarships have been used more often than the opt-out provision.
Douthitt said he’s not aware of any Anniston students currently using the opt-out provision, though local officials at private schools have said in the past that they have some students on scholarships.
The latest local school to get permission to accept scholarship students is Sharp-Dean School of Continuing Studies on Noble Street. The school has about 100 students, some of whom are traditional high-schoolers, while others are adults who’ve returned to school to get their diplomas.
The school qualified to receive Accountability Act scholarships in August. Rosetta Dean, the school’s founder, said no scholarship students have applied to the school yet.
“We have not been approached at all,” she said.
Many of the schools on the list, like Anniston High, are in high-poverty districts. Anniston’s schools have sometimes struggled to stay out of the red in earlier school-accountability systems such as No Child Left Behind, in which schools with poor test scores could end up on “alert.”
Inclusion on the list last year was a disappointment for school leaders, who’d seen a sharp improvement in Anniston High’s dropout rate. Douthitt said he was concerned about the effect the label “failing school” could have on the school’s top-performing graduates.
“If you’re talking about grading anything, you should be more exact,” he said. “‘Clear, caution and alert’ — that should have been enough.”