Now that we know which schools have met the definition of “failing” according to the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA), it’s time to examine it more closely: what is the test that is used, which schools ended up on The List and do they actually belong there?
Al.com took a look at the demographics of the student population in the schools on The List, including a look at race and what percentage of the children live in poverty (as indicated by the numbers of students receiving a free or reduced lunch). Folks still tend to blame student poverty (as opposed to any school-based characteristic) for poor standardized test scores, even with proof supplied by schools here in Alabama that are filled with students in poverty who are succeeding at high levels. Far be it from me to burst their bubble.
You can be morally outraged that The List exists if you choose, but the fact is that its creation was required by law. And if you think for one moment that The List names all of the schools who are under-performing, I have some swamp land in Nebraska for sale.
So what does The List really show us?
The Test That Decided The List
The “Level 3 and 4″ column on The List refers to the combined/”all students” scoring at Level III or IV of the Alabama Reading and Mathematics Test (ARMT), the standardized, Alabama-created test used to measure what students have learned in our schools. The ARMT was criticized by the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) as basically not being tough enough, likening Alabama’s “proficient” (Level 3) on the ARMT with the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) “basic” level. NAEP tests are only given at the 4th and 8th grade levels. See the table below, taken from page 23 of this document
So in 2005, when Alabama claimed to have 83% of 4th-grade children “proficient” in state reading standards, only 22% of those students would have been considered “proficient” at the national level of reading standards. I explain this just to make sure we all understand what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about the ARMT. The state standardized test. It’s not really a high bar as tests go.
Just look at the sliding scale to get an idea of the comparison. The results shown in the graph are statewide for 2011. If you haven’t already, you MUST take a look at PARCA’s test score comparisons for Alabama’s school systems. PARCA looks at the percentage of students scoring at Level IV only, which gives a much better indication, in my opinion, of the competitiveness of students on a national level. If we used PARCA’s parameters, The List might look differently.
The Scores that Decided The List
Look not only at the names on The List, but also at the actual numerical scores. And remember that this is an “all students” score, as opposed to being broken down by demographic group or poverty status or some other “subgroup” that the ALSDE uses to identify populations that are struggling within schools.
I have added a column to the 72-school list provided by the ALSDE (without the schools serving “special populations”) to show their progress or lack thereof in the past six years. The List is ordered by progress made over the past six years, with those making the most numerical progress listed first. Cells indicated in green show progress of 10 or more percentage points, yellow cells indicate 1 to 10 percentage points of progress, and red cells indicated zero or negative progress. Fifty-five of these schools have shown some improvement in the past six years. Seventeen have not.
Look at the percentages of students scoring at Level 3 or 4, which Alabama deems proficient, but the NAEP deems basic. Look at only the 2012 results to see where they are now. Take a moment to ponder what it means for a school to have barely half of its students score at Level 3 on the ARMT, the state test. And remember that these are just the schools that landed in the bottom 6% for three out of the last six years and this is a combined score of all students at the school.
Just Because Your School Isn’t on The List Doesn’t Mean All Is Well
Just because your school isn’t on The List doesn’t mean that all is well. I know of many schools who have shown no improvement in test scores, even dropped drastically over the past 6 years, who didn’t show up on The List simply because they didn’t fall in the bottom 6% as defined by the AAA.
There are many schools that should be considered “under-performing”, especially when you break down the test scores by subgroup, including by race, students in special education, English-language learners, and children in poverty.
Again, please take a look at PARCA’s test score data to learn how students in your schools are performing. Some school systems are reluctant to use PARCA’s data because it doesn’t show their students’ success in the same light as the lower-standard ARMT does. Contact PARCA if you wish to host a meeting in your school community to allow them to share their results. Contact me if you’d like some help getting that meeting put together.
Is The List Going to Make Much of a Difference for Children in Schools on The List?
The short answer: probably not. Article after article is being written to show how too few children in the schools on The List have too few real choices to attend schools that aren’t on The List: no other schools to transfer to in their own school system, no access to nor money for tuition for private schools. Not to mention there is SO little time for families to make these decisions.
So What Does The List Show Us?
The List was created to meet the requirements under the AAA. Plain and simple. It is up to each of us in our local school communities to understand what The List really shows us, and more importantly, what it doesn’t.
Perhaps the bigger question is what is the Alabama Accountability Act for, and will the AAA actually have the impact the authors intended.
As always, let’s discuss here or on the facebook page.