TALLADEGA -- Talladega High School has been included on the failing schools list for 2019. The list was released by the state Friday.
The failing grade is distinct from the Education Report Card, which was issued last month. On the report card, THS earned a 69, which is a D.
The report card grade is based on numerous factors, whereas the failing schools list is based exclusively on the results of standardized testing, in this case, the ACT. The schools in the lowest 6 percent across the state are designated as failing.
According to the report card, THS’s academic achievement indicator, based on test scores, was 28.66 percent. Proficiencies in reading, math and science we reported at 18.02 percent, 15.32 percent and 13.51 percent, respectively.
THS did not appear on the failing schools list last year, but, according to Talladega City Schools Superintendent Tony Ball, Zora Ellis Junior High School has made the list in the past, most recently two years ago.
Ellis’ overall score on the report card was a 65, lower than the high school’s, but its academic achievement indicator was 37.11 percent, considerably higher than the high school’s.
“Obviously, we are super disappointed,” Ball said Friday. “But the ACT has to be job one for us, and that will be our hard focus going forward. There are no excuses. I could say that the grade is unfair, and in some ways it is, but it is what it is. We have to do better.”
Ball pointed out there were several schools in the area with similar or lower overall report card scores than THS, but “they’re pulling from just one part of the report.”
He also pointed out the bar for a failing school is falling into the bottom 6 percent in the state, meaning that regardless of how well a school does or how much it improves, the lowest 6 percent will always be deemed failing.
“But if I wanted to make excuses, I would be on the same page as every other system in Alabama,” Ball said. “There are 70 some schools on the failing schools list, and even if all of them raised their scores 10 points, they would still all be in the bottom 6 percent.
“No matter how high the scores get, there will always be schools in that lowest 6 percent, and unfortunately, the kids at those schools are going to be labeled failures as well, and they’ll always have to tote that around with them.
“If you tell a child that they’re a failure often enough, they will eventually start to believe it.”
Under a state law passed in 2013, parents of students at failing schools can transfer their children to non-failing schools within the same district, in a different district or in private or parochial schools willing to accept students from failing schools.
Parents seeking to transfer their children to schools that would charge them tuition are eligible for a tax credit under the act. Because THS is the only high school in the city system, transferring to another school in the same district is not an option.
Ball said the other options would only apply if any other systems in the state were willing to accept students from failing schools. He said other systems in the area are not willing to do that.
“I don’t want to guess what might happen (if that changes),” he said.
Public schools in Alabama get the majority of their state funding based on enrollment, so moving children out of a failing school would reduce funding going to schools that are struggling to begin with.
Even so, Ball said, “This happened on my watch, and I won’t run from my responsibility. This is the culmination of several years of stuff, and I have to take the bad with the good.
“I own it, just like I would want to get credit for the areas where we have improved. And we will improve, and I will own that, too. My big regret is still for the kids who are going to be labelled failures by this. I’m not closing my eyes to anything, and we’re not going to throw away any students or any teachers. We’ve got a long road ahead of us. We’re disappointed, but we will do better.”