These two bills call for (1) the creation of a performance grading system to be developed by the State Superintendent of Education, Dr. Tommy Bice and (2) the disbursal of bonuses to schools and districts under a newly-created Legislative School Performance Recognition Program.
HB588 – Performance Grading System
HB588 lays out a requirement for Bice to develop a grading system, using letter grades of A, B, C, D, and F, to be assigned to individual schools based on that grading system.
It requires Bice to seek input from various stakeholder groups, including parents, teachers, administrators, state department officials, and other education stakeholders “on how the system can properly reflect not only the overall academic proficiency of each public school but also the academic improvements made by each public school, along with other key performance indicators that give a total profile of the school or the school system, or both.” It requires that this grading scale be developed not later than December 31, 2012, to be implemented not later than the 2013-2014 school year.
The grading scale will be developed using “state-authorized assessments and other key performance indicators that give a total profile of the school or the school system, or both, a school’s grade, at a minimum, shall be based on a combination of student achievement scores, achievement gap, college and career readiness, learning gains, and other indicators as determined by the State Superintendent of Education to impact student learning and success. The school grading system shall be consistently applied so that grades of one school or system may be compared to the grades of any other school or system”.
It bears stating here that while assigning grades is a familiar way to allow the school community to understand more about where their child’s learning is taking place, it often leads to frustration on the part of those who worry about the school being labeled in a negative way. Grading scales are more helpful when those most affected by the grades have a real opportunity to help improve the grades. This, in my opinion, was one of the shortcomings of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) pass/fail assignments. Parents and students (and teachers) were left in the dark as to how they could help improve their school’s overall AYP grade. [Here’s a great primer on AYP from the Mobile Press-Register.]
Frustrations over the “failing” label bubble up every year as yearly test results are released. Too often, news articles focus on superintendents’ and educators’ reactions, rather than fleshing out what families have to say. This author gave particularly good questions parents can, and should, ask regarding their school’s AYP.
While some states have developed guides to help educators communicate with parents about these labels, no guide can be found for Alabama. When those who are attending the schools don’t understand what the labels mean, the labels don’t really help anyone make better decisions. [See this post for more about the lack of using available information to help make decisions about where your child should attend school.]
Looking at states around us, Louisiana has an extensive grading system and began utilizing the letter grades that this bill now proposes as of the 2011-2012 school year. Page 3 of Louisiana’s “Accountability at a Glance” shows the detail as to how the letter grades are awarded.
Florida’s school grades are available on this web site. The web site has other states’ performance grades available as well, though not all of them use letter grades.
What kind of information does Alabama currently have available to help those who care about our children’s education gain perspective on student performance?
Glad you asked. This page on the ALSDE web site is where the Accountability document access begins. In the middle of that page, you’ll find a drop-down menu where you can select which school year you are interested in reviewing. Don’t click the blue button saying “Accountability Reporting System” until you want to be directed to individual system and school results. Right now, we’re looking at state-level reports.
Once you select the year, use the second pull-down menu to look at the list of documents available. Here’s the 2010-2011 Report of Schools That Made Less than 60% of Goals, for example.
Other reports available include the Schools in School Improvement. Here is the full state report showing 2011 ARMT results for all of Alabama’s school systems. Here is the 2011 state report showing what percentage of students passed the Alabama High School Graduation Exam (AHSGE) in each school system. Take a look around. Pretty much anything you want to know about performance you can find on that page.
Bice has stated that he plans to unveil a new accountability measure for Alabama’s schools this month, most likely at the Board of Education’s work session, planned for April 26. With the federal government granting waivers for states for relief from AYP labels and ever-higher performance goals heading toward 2014, Bice announced his intention to create an accountability system that is uniquely Alabama’s. Wonder if that will meet this bill’s requirements. Surely that will be discussed in committee.
HB588 also specifies that annual results of the grading system will be posted on the ALSDE’s web site, and families will get a copy of their child’s school’s annual results as well.
Once the grading system is developed, the grades will be used to reward schools under the companion bill, HB585’s Legislative School Performance Recognition Program.
HB585 – Legislative School Performance Recognition Program
The legislature’s intent appears to be to create an incentive program in which schools are rewarded for making real progress:
“The Legislative School Performance Recognition Program is created within the State Department of Education to reward public schools that either: (1) Demonstrate high performance by being ranked in the top 25 percent of public schools, as ranked in the school grading system. (2) Demonstrate exemplary progress by improving the overall annual ranking of the school by at least one letter grade, as ranked in the school grading system.”
Bice would be responsible for developing the rewards program, and funds would be distributed “depending on the availability of funds appropriated by the Legislature to the program.”
The goal is to have the recognition program in place not later than December 31, 2013, utilizing the second year of results using the grading system developed as a result of HB588.
What kind of incentive and reward program is available under the current system?
Here’s the 2011 Alabama Rewards and Interventions Plan, which includes how the ALSDE deals with schools in school improvement and the reward structure for schools who meet certain criteria.
You may remember when fairly large financial incentives were given to schools based on their AYP achievement goals. Last year, awards seemed less than large, possibly due to reduced funding for education overall.
Alabama’s classification of schools eligible for monetary awards can be found here. The criteria state they are for the 2010-2011 school year, but no updated list can be found.
The Torchbearer School is currently the highest award available. It is a culmination of a series of awards, meaning that the students at the school have met certain socioeconomic criteria and performance goals.
From the document: “In order to be in the Torchbearer School category (i.e., a high-poverty, high-performing school), a school must meet all of the following, as applicable:
- Identified as Meeting the Challenge School.
- Identified as Advancing the Challenge School.
- Identified as Exceeding the Challenge School.
- Have at least 80% poverty rate (percent free/reduced meals).
- Have at least 80% of students score Level III or Level IV on the reading section of the Alabama Reading and Mathematics Test.
- Have at least 80% of students score Level III or Level IV on the mathematics section of the Alabama Reading and Mathematics Test.
- Have at least 65% of students score in stanines 5-9 on Stanford 10 reading.
- Have at least 65% of students score in stanines 5-9 on Stanford 10 mathematics.
- Have at least 95% of Grade 12 students pass all required subjects of the Alabama High School Graduation Exam.
- Have a graduation rate above state average.
- Be in existence at the time of the award.”
According to this article about Wilkerson Middle School, the monetary award, which was $15,000 per Torchbearer school, has not been awarded for the past two years. Alabama’s Torchbearer schools continue to dispel the myth that children in poverty cannot achieve at high levels.
On a national level, an Alabama elementary school, Calcedeaver Elementary in Mount Vernon, received the Education Trust’s 2011 Dispelling the Myth award, given annually to only a handful of schools that have demonstrated success among groups of children in poverty. George Hall Elementary in Mobile won the award in 2009.
From the press release: “‘Each of these schools shows that, while this work is not easy, closing gaps and boosting achievement is within our power,’ said Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust. ‘The educators in these schools know that what they do can literally change the life trajectory of their students. Their unyielding commitment to working hard and smart pays off for the students they teach.’
These schools are an important reminder that, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, all students can shine academically. Dispelling the Myth schools share a few traits:
- A laser focus on strong instruction;
- A thoughtful approach to using data to inform intervention strategies for students and staff; and
- A devotion to broad, rich and rigorous curricula; and intervention programs, as needed.”
The stories of the Dispelling the Myth award winners, and of Alabama’s own Torchbearer Schools are inspiring and should be shared widely. And with Alabama’s Torchbearer Schools being touted as a model for reform (boasting 100% success compared with the mixed success of charter schools), we will most certainly be hearing more about the Torchbearer model in the near future.
Back to the bills in consideration.
The hard work of Alabama’s schoolteachers and schoolchildren yearn to be graded and deserve to be rewarded. Is this the right way to do it? What do you think?