SYLACAUGA -- Alabamians are passionate about sports. On any given Saturday, thousands of fans attend or watch one of the games played by their favorite team in the state. Our colleges and universities have a strong tradition of success on the field of play and are considered some of the best in the nation. If we had to assign a letter grade for those accomplishments, I certainly think they are deserving of an A.
An interesting statistic about college athletes is that fewer than 10 percent will turn professional. In 2017, the national graduation success rate for student-athletes was 87 percent. Obviously, the odds of completing a college degree are far better than playing professionally. The National College Athletic Association has made graduation a priority and the results are showing. Since 2002, the graduation rate has increased 13 percent. If we assign this accomplishment a letter grade based on percentage alone, the NCAA would earn a B.
Letter grades like this are somewhat arbitrary and do not give the complete picture of the quality of an athletic program. When viewed in the context of all the other measures of success, they do provide useful information to drive goals for improvement. Similar to colleges and universities, K-12 public schools in Alabama will receive a letter grade when report cards are released on Feb. 1. Grades will be determined based on the academic achievement and growth of students on a standardized test, the percentage of students not considered chronically absent, graduation rate, and college and career readiness rate.
In Sylacauga, two-thirds of our graduates will attend college with a majority beginning at two-year institutions. These percentages are important in determining what we focus on to prepare our students for not only college, but career choices as well. Our plan prioritizes six ways our graduates can better equip themselves for life after high school. In addition to their diploma, students can earn a benchmark score on one of the ACT tests, college credit through success on Advanced Placement tests or dual enrollment courses, enlistment in the military, an industry credential, or a qualifying score on Work Keys.
Over the past three years, we have almost quadrupled the percentage of graduates who earn industry credentials and doubled the percentages of students completing college courses, qualifying scores on Advanced Placement exams, and military enlistments. We continue to get closer to every graduate earning at least one of these additional goals.
The report card will show us that we have academic areas to improve upon. It will affirm that we must be committed to our children attending school. Along with the many accomplishments of our students, it will show that we are moving in the right direction.
The successes of our favorite sports teams do not happen by accident. They are committed to being champions on and off the ballfield and are proving that both are achievable. I am certain that excellence like this happens in any endeavor when it is made the absolute top priority. Imagine the results if every community invests the same passion and enthusiasm for academic success as it does for athletics. That would earn a solid A+!
Dr. Todd Freeman is superintendent at Sylacauga City Schools.