TALLADEGA -- Talladega City Schools Superintendent Tony Ball issued a press release Thursday outlining the first steps in getting Talladega High School off the failing schools list, including the hiring of outside testing consultants.
“The Talladega City Schools will implement a strategic plan to combat the recent designation by the Alabama State Department of Education … based on the spring scores on the ACT assessment,” Ball said. “A committee comprised of the superintendent, high school principal, counselors, curriculum coordinator and (chief schools financial officer) met to determine what actions the district could take to ensure success on the spring 2020 test and to be removed from this list.
“The options were presented to the committee,” and several strategies will be implemented to improve test scores in the immediate future.
ACT baseline testing for 11th-graders is scheduled for Nov. 12-15, Ball said.
“The state testing scores are based on the 11th-graders’ performances each spring,” Ball said. “After baseline testing, the contracted company, Basic Administrative Solutions LLC, will analyze and score each individual test.
“The school will receive a personal analysis per student, as well as a group report detailing what weak areas in the curriculum the teachers should address.
“We will have group meetings with the teachers to offer support for the areas of the curriculum that students are struggling with the most on the test. The professional development component assists the teachers with the resources to help personalize learning.”
The system will also be bringing in certified assessment professionals to “work with students in our schools with strategies and time management,” Ball said in the release. “The company has a history of success with other school districts that have struggled with testing issues.
“Progress monitoring will take place to ensure that students are progressing each month, and we will plan our lessons to emphasize areas that need additional work. This can be done across the entire curriculum in reading, for example.
“The continuous monitoring is a component we lacked in the past, but the outside assistance will provide the test analysis and not take instructional time away from our teaching staff.”
Test preparation and analysis only represent part of the new plan, Ball continued.
“We are bringing in motivational speakers and rewards,” according to the release. “We want to celebrate their progress and success. Although state testing is mandatory, we know that other contributing factors lead to this ‘failing school’ designation.
“Our Virtual School students did not take the test, and this counts toward their participation percentage. We are looking to change this policy to make it mandatory that they take the state test to avoid this in 2020.”
Another problem pointed out in the release is that “students take this four-hour test, and it counts toward our ‘accountability,’ yet they have no grade attached to it.
“Students have historically said, ‘Does this count for a grade?’ When an assignment doesn’t ‘count’ for a grade, they sometimes do not take it as seriously and just randomly guess the answers on the multiple choice test.”
According to the release, “Our progress monitoring plan will identify those who are randomly guessing, and we will counsel them on the importance of this test.
“This assessment has traditionally been used as a college acceptance test. We want our students to do well on the test, but we realize not all students are going to a traditional university.
“The assessment is not an indication that students would not perform well on a jobs skills assessment, like WorkKeys, which is also given annually. We know that our Talladega students are much more prepared for the world of work or college than the 2019 test reveals. We are confident that after this training and assistance with monitoring that our students will reveal much progress.”
The failing schools list consists of the bottom 6 percent of schools statewide, based exclusively on ACT scores. Ball has pointed out previously that if every school in the state scored 97 to 100 percent, some of the schools scoring 97s would still be in the bottom 6 percent.
Ball also pointed out that progress on test scores, which is a major component of the “school report cards” that came out a month ago but do not figure into the failing schools list, can also be misleading.
“If you do well on the pre-test, then your progress score is not going to be as high, because the scores are not rising as much. It’s really not a fair way to grade the system,” he said.
Still, Ball said, the failing school designation occurred on his watch, and he said he fully owns it.
“I just want to let people know that we are not just sitting back and accepting his,” he said. “I know we can do better, and we are taking steps to do just that.”