PSSST: This post was published in early April, prior to the release of the actual “failing” schools list on June 18 by the ALSDE. Click this link to read about the actual list.

“Failing” is a strong term that truly has no place in this discussion, but since it is the trigger on which the Alabama Accountability Act’s (AAA) tuition tax credit provisions are initiated, we will hang on to that term for now.  “Failing” should never refer to a school.  “Failing” refers only to whether the scores on standardized tests, including the Alabama Reading and Mathematics Test (ARMT) and the Alabama High School Graduation Exam (AHSGE), meet the benchmark set by state officials when No Child Left Behind’s accountability provisions took effect.   The proper term to use is “did not make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)”.  Not making progress and “failing” are two very different terms, wouldn’t you agree? [NOTE: The testing regimen is undergoing a complete overhaul. Don't get too attached to ARMT and AHSGE...they're both on their way out.]

In this post, I shared the current choices that students in “failing” schools have and how few students and their families actually take advantage of those choices.  Now let’s look at the lists of schools that meet the current definition of “not making AYP”.

The list of schools that did not make AYP for 2011-2012 is broken down by Title I and non-Title I.  Title I schools have more than 40% of their student body eligible for free/reduced lunch. The chart is a breakdown of Title I and non-Title I schools that did not make AYP.  Interesting to note that a higher percentage of non-Title I schools did not make AYP than Title I schools.

Note, too, there is a difference between “not making AYP” and being in “school improvement”.  A school that doesn’t make AYP two years in a row in either math or reading or in attendance for those exams is placed in school improvement.  Check out the table for a clearer understanding.  

Year of Not Making AYPTitle I School Non-Title I School
Year 1Not Made AYPNot Made AYP
Year 2School Improvement Year 1/School Transfer Option offered/SES offered (new for 2011-2012)School Improvement Year 1
Year 3School Improvement Year 2/School Transfer Option offered/SES offered School Improvement Year 2
Year 4School Improvement Year 3/School Transfer Option offered/SES offered School Improvement Year 3

School Improvement – The Next Step

When a school fails to make AYP for a second year, in the same component, they are placed in “school improvement”.  Here is the ALSDE’s most current list of all schools in school improvement.  This list is based on test results from the Spring of 2012.  Here is the list again, re-ordered to show these schools in order of where they are in “school improvement status”.  Total number of schools on the list:  248.  Total number of schools that have been in school improvement two years or longer without subsequently making AYP: 110.

If a school makes AYP the next year after they failed to make AYP, they earn a “delay” noted after the year.  If a school makes AYP two years in a row after being placed in school improvement, they get off the list.  In other words, it takes two years to get on the list, and it takes two years to get off.

Title I students are given additional opportunities: children in a Title I school that has not made AYP for two years are eligible to transfer to a higher-performing school in their district.  Beginning with this school year, children in a Title I school that has not made AYP for two years in a row are eligible to receive supplement educational services (SES), or tutoring, at no charge. Prior to this school year, SES were only offered after the third year of not making AYP.  Again, read this to learn how many students actually take advantage of the opportunity.

Thirty-four of the schools in school improvement—half of them Title I, half of them non-Title I—have failed to make AYP for FIVE years or longer (the label School Improvement – Year 4).  How many children are in these 34 schools?  How long is long enough to give the school time to show improvement? How many children should walk through those halls before somebody in this state does something to help them?  What interventions are the principals and teachers and school boards and superintendents implementing to better educate the children in these schools?  What have community members done to enhance learning in their neighborhood schools?

Here is a table of those 34 schools that have failed to make AYP for FIVE years or longer.  The asterisk (*) indicates it is a Title I school.  Are any of these in your community?  

School SystemSchoolSchool Improvement Year
School SystemSchoolSchool Improvement Year
Bibb CountyBibb County High SchoolSchool Improvement - Year 6
Birmingham City Huffman High School-Magnet* School Improvement - Year 4
Birmingham City Jackson-Olin High School* School Improvement - Year 4
Blount County Blount County Learning Center School Improvement - Year 4
Butler County Greenville High School* School Improvement - Year 4
Chilton County Thorsby High School* School Improvement - Year 4
Cullman County Cullman Child Development Center School Improvement - Year 7
Dallas County Dallas County High School* School Improvement - Year 8
Dekalb County Geraldine School* School Improvement - Year 7
Dothan City Dothan High School* School Improvement - Year 6
Escambia County W S Neal High School School Improvement - Year 4
Escambia County Escambia County High School* School Improvement - Year 6
Huntsville City SR Butler High School* School Improvement - Year 4
Huntsville City JO Johnson High School School Improvement - Year 4
Huntsville City Westlawn Middle School* School Improvement - Year 8
Jefferson County Erwin Middle School* School Improvement - Year 4
Jefferson County Hueytown High School School Improvement - Year 4
Jefferson County Minor High School School Improvement - Year 7
Lee County Sanford Middle School School Improvement - Year 4
Lowndes County Calhoun High School* School Improvement - Year 5
Midfield City Midfield High School* School Improvement - Year 4
Mobile County Continuous Learning Center School Improvement - Year 4
Montgomery County Childrens Center School Improvement - Year 5
Montgomery County Jefferson Davis High School* School Improvement - Year 7
Montgomery County Lee High School* School Improvement - Year 7
Opelika City Opelika High School School Improvement - Year 4
Russell County Russell County High School School Improvement - Year 6
Shelby County Linda Nolen Learning Center School Improvement - Year 5
Tallapoosa County Tallapoosa County Alternative School School Improvement - Year 4
Tuscaloosa City Paul W Bryant High School* School Improvement - Year 4
Tuscaloosa City Northridge High School* School Improvement - Year 4
Tuscaloosa City Oak Hill School School Improvement - Year 5
Tuscaloosa County Tuscaloosa County High School School Improvement - Year 4
Tuscaloosa County Holt High School School Improvement - Year 5

The list of schools that are in school improvement is also broken down by Title I and non-Title I.

Why Are These Schools Allowed to Continue to Not Make AYP? What Can Be Done?

Don’t misunderstand what I am saying.  I am not claiming that the AAA will help these children or their families.  Nor am I saying the AAA will negatively impact these children any more than they are currently being negatively impacted (financial analysis notwithstanding).

What I am saying is that in order to get the real picture of which schools are “failing”, you must look at the most current lists and have an understanding of what “failing” currently means. [NOTE:  don't forget that the ALSDE is still working to determine which schools will meet the definition of "failing" under the AAA.]  Knowing  which students have had the opportunity to move from their failing school to a higher-performing school but haven’t chosen to do so is important as well.  Why haven’t families utilized the help that has already been made available?

More could have been done to help these schools already. The ALSDE and State Board of Education, under a 1995 law which appears to be rarely utilized, have a mandate to institute changes in “failing” schools and help these students and teachers and schools turn themselves around. The Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) recently published a look at the 1995 law and calls attention to how the ALSDE has chosen not to utilize the accountability measures and methods in the law to turn schools around.  I must admit that I am still bewildered how the ALSDE can continue not to follow their own rules, but it certainly happens, and this is yet another case of their absence of action resulting in opportunities for children being limited by the adults in charge of their education.  So, a method to help already exists, but it has failed to be enacted.  Over and over again.

How are we to trust that the AAA will make any difference at all?  Many Magic Bullets and Pills for What Ails Us have been prescribed for Alabama’s public education system over the years, but none have stuck.  None have proven to be The Answer we are looking for.  Doesn’t it make you wonder why?

So now you’ve seen the most current lists that are available under the current definition of “failing”.  Knowing the little that is known about the AAA, what are your thoughts about whether the AAA will truly make a difference for these children?  Do you see schools in your community on the list?  What have you done to help the children in these schools?  Have you talked with your local school officials, your churches, your elected leaders about the fate that awaits children who do not receive an excellent, or even an adequate, education?  Our leaders need to hear from us.  They need to know we care about Other People’s Children.

There is no Magical Yellow Road to help students learn what they need to know.  The AAA is no magical formula, either.  The formula is hard work and dedication and cooperation and collaboration.  Every single day, in every single classroom, one by one, improvement happens.  You know who these children are now.  You know where they go to school. We, the school community, must engage in the work of our public schools.  We must demand excellence in our own districts and not accept “failing” schools in our communities.

Next up will be a look at the schools for which no one makes excuses.  They just get it done.  The Torchbearer Schools.