This is the third and final installment in a series looking at the accountability provisions in Alabama’s waiver that rids us of the old way of calculating Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). In Part 1 and Part 2, we learned about various new parameters school officials must consider and report regarding achievement in our schools.
Today, in Part 3, we will look at the last two areas of accountability:
- what the plans are for Reward Schools, Priority Schools and Districts, and Focus Schools
- the School Grading System
Recognition for schools that are successful and support for those schools who need it are essential parts of the waiver. The ALSDE’s plans for recognizing and supporting Alabama’s schools begin on page 62 of the waiver (page 68 of the PDF).
Reward Schools “will be identified for specific improvement results such as student growth, closing the achievement gap, and increasing the number of prepared graduates. These Reward Schools will receive a monetary award (if funds are allocated by the state legislature) and be deemed a demonstration site for other schools” (p. 65, waiver).
In Alabama, we already have an amazing group of schools known as Torchbearer Schools. Each year, Torchbearer Schools are identified. The method for determining Torchbearer Schools will be used to determine which schools are identified as Reward Schools.
Here are the criteria to be named a Torchbearer School for fall 2013:
- Not a Priority School.
- Not a Focus School.
- Have at least 95% Participation Rate in the “all students” subgroup and all applicable ESEA subgroups.
- Have a Graduation Rate above the state average.
- Be in existence at the time of the award.
- Have at least 80% poverty rate (percent free/reduced meals).
- Have above state average of students scoring Level IV on both the reading and the mathematics sections of the ARMT+.
- Have at least 95% of Grade 12 students pass all required subjects of the AHSGE.
- Must be among the top 20% band of the state using proficiency of ARMT+, AHSGE, and Alabama Alternate Assessment from 2012-13 for Level III and for Level IV.
The ARMT+ is the Alabama Reading and Mathematics Test that was administered for the final time in the spring of 2013. The AHSGE is the Alabama High School Graduation Exam. It is being phased out and will only be administered to seniors for the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 school year.
For the fall of 2014 and 2015, Torchbearer School/Reward Schools will be determined using the ACT Aspire (replacing the ARMT) and End-of-Course Test (replacing the AHSGE) results.
In fall of 2016, Reward Schools will be broken down into two different groups: High Performing and High Progress. Both performance and progress will be measured and judged over a three-year span. The details can be found beginning on page 74 of the waiver.
How will these schools be rewarded, you ask? The 2012 law creating the Legislative School Performance Recognition Program provides for recognition, which the ALSDE has determined will include:
- Promotion of announcement with statewide media.
- Special Certificate of Recognition.
- Prominent display on the ALSDE Web site.
- Recognition as a demonstration site.
- Opportunity to provide mentoring to low-performing schools.
- Recognition as a “best practice” school.
- Increased opportunities to serve on teams and committees.
- Financial Rewards (subject to availability of funds).
- A state-approved Web logo that reflects the category of recognition.
The identification of Priority Schools is a complicated formula. A description of the formula begins on page 76 of the waiver. What matters (at least to me) is what the ALSDE will do to support schools identified as Priority Schools in their efforts to improve student achievement.
The waiver cites the Code of Alabama, Section 16-6B-3, which outlined the various methods for state intervention that were in place prior to the passage of the Educational Accountability and Intervention Act (the “Act”). The date on the waiver is May 3 and the Act was signed into law on May 20.
The Act does not specify how the intervention will progress. Instead, it gives the State Superintendent and State Board full authority to determine how that will happen through the rule-making process. Until those rules are developed and made public, I hesitate to explain what specific actions are stated in the waiver, though I have a hunch that those actions will stand.
The Act defines a Priority School much more broadly than what is in the waiver. Here’s how the Act defines a Priority School:
“A school that has a majority of its students scoring one or more grade levels below the prescribed state-adopted student assessments or that is designated as a priority school by the State Superintendent of Education.”
To give you some idea of what may happen in a Priority Schools, below is a table of “intervention strategies” listed in the waiver as research-based interventions that Priority Schools can implement to “meet their specific needs and priorities” (p. 78, waiver).
Priority Schools will be assisted by Regional Planning Teams (RPTs) throughout the intervention. “RPTs are composed of representatives from ALSDE sections; Regional Inservice Centers; institutions of higher education; and the Alabama Department of Children’s Affairs, Office of School Readiness (pre-K).” (p. 77, waiver)
It is unclear what role, if any, parents and families will play in a Priority School (other than to be a part of Family Engagement efforts outlined in the chart above). Though a School Turnaround Team is mentioned, there is no mention of parents or family members becoming members of that team nor a mention of who may be members of the School Turnaround Team. I certainly hope that schools do not miss the opportunity to invite parents and families to the table.
To exit Priority School status, a school must:
- Implement intervention services for a minimum of three consecutive years;
- Rank higher than the lowest 5 percent of Title I schools for two or more consecutive years.
- High schools that had a graduation rate of less than 60% must show improvement by increasing the graduation rate to 70% or above for two consecutive years.
- Maintain a participation rate of 95% or more on administered assessments.
- Meet or exceed the AMO goals for the “all students” subgroup for two consecutive years. (p. 84, waiver)
If a Priority School has failed to make significant improvement after three years:
- The school may lose the autonomy to select and implement interventions to address the learning needs of students.
- Changes in leaders and teachers may be made.
- A district facilitator may be assigned to ensure that the CIP [Continuous Improvement Plan] is carried out to fidelity.
- The District and/or ALSDE may intervene in the daily operations of the school. (p. 84, waiver)
Beginning in fall of 2016, Priority Districts will be identified. A Priority District is:
1. Districts with the lowest ranking District Performance Index Score and have demonstrated a lack of progress.
2. Any district with a graduation rate of less than 60% for two or more consecutive years. (p. 81, waiver) [We had four districts that met that definition this year.]
Districts are selected from this list until at least 5% are classified as Priority. (p. 81, waiver) Priority Districts will be subject to intervention by the ALSDE. Strategies for intervention and improvement are similar to those for Priority Schools. Details begin on page 81 of the waiver.
To exit Priority District status, a district must:
- Rank higher than the lowest 5% of districts for two or more consecutive years (as measured by rank order on total school/district performance index score).
- Show improvement by increasing the graduation rate to 70% or above for two consecutive years (for districts that had a graduation rate of less than 60%).
- Maintain a participation rate of 95% or more on administered assessments. (p. 82, waiver)
Focus Schools are schools that do not require a school-wide systemic change but rather need to focus on services and support to one or more ESEA subgroups (p. 86, waiver).
Focus Schools will be subject to ALSDE direction and intervention, but will have more latitude to determine their own direction. Assistance will be provided through Regional Planning Teams (RPTs), similar to assistance for Priority Schools. “A core group of turnaround specialists have been trained to assist each of the RPTs in planning with Focus Schools.” (p. 86, waiver)
In order for a school to exit Focus School status, the school must:
- Meet or exceed the AMO goals for the applicable gap subgroup(s) performance for two consecutive years.
- Rank higher than the lowest 10% of the Title I schools in the state.
- Maintain a participation rate of 95% or more on administered assessments. (p. 88, waiver)
If a school continues to meet the requirements to be identified as a Focus School or has failed to make significant improvement after two years:
- The school will lose the autonomy to select and implement interventions to address the learning needs of students.
- Changes in leaders and teachers may be made.
- A district facilitator may be assigned to diagnose and support improvement among the effective subgroups and will ensure that the CIP plan is carried out to fidelity.
- The District and/or ALSDE may intervene in the daily operations of the school. (p. 88, waiver)
Here is Attachment 33, which graphically represents Priority Schools, Priority Districts and Focus Schools and the supports they will receive:
The School Grading System
After all of these calculations and gyrations are completed, our local schools are to be assigned a simple A-F grade so that we parents, family members and the greater Alabama school community can better understand how successful our schools are in educating our children on all of these various newly-incorporated measures.
The School Grading System is part of a law passed in 2012 mandating the creation and use of an A-F grading system. The grading system is mentioned fifteen times in the waiver, yet no details about it are revealed. Here’s what the waiver says:
The School Performance Index will be used to determine the A-F grade of the school/system. The points will be converted into the A–F grades below using a grading scale to be determined after the baseline data are collected. These points will be reported publicly. As required in Alabama Act 2012-402, the grading system shall utilize the traditional A, B, C, D, or F framework.
- Schools receiving a grade of “A” are making excellent progress.
- Schools receiving a grade of “B” are making average progress.
- Schools receiving a grade of “C” are making satisfactory progress.
- Schools receiving a grade of “D” are making less than satisfactory progress.
- Schools receiving a grade of “F” are failing to make adequate progress. (p. 56, waiver)
Here’s more of what the waiver says about the school grading system:
The new state accountability system includes the requirements of Act 2012-402 (Attachment 20) recently passed by the Alabama Legislature so there is one system of differentiated recognition, accountability, and support. Act 2012-402 requires the State Superintendent of Education to develop a school grading system reflective of school and district performance and to create the Legislative School Performance Recognition Program.
This act requires a plan be developed by December 2012. This system will utilize a traditional A–F grading system to give parents, educators, and students an easy-to-understand system for comprehending student performance. At the same time, the grading system will provide an awareness of school performance in local communities throughout the state. The overall numbers found in the A-F grading system incorporate a robust set of success factors but remains strongly focused on the learning gains of individual students.” (p. 49, waiver)
I’m fairly certain that December 2012 passed six months ago. Yet no plan has been announced nor shared with the public. I am deeply concerned that there are no parents or families serving on the Accountability Task Force that is working on the school grading system. If the grading system is supposed to be utilized by “parents, educators, and students”, why are only educators and administrators on the Task Force?
A word of caution about the grading system is warranted here. I find it interesting that we worked so hard to get away from the simplistic AYP Pass/Fail method yet find ourselves working to develop a simplistic A-F grade. While A-F might tell us more than Pass/Fail did, it may not tell us all that we need to know.
Final Remarks on the Changes in Accountability in the Waiver (for now)
As I said in Part 1, AYP as we know it is gone. We members of the public will now be given a more meaningful look at what is happening within our schools related to achievement. But it will only be meaningful if we have a basic understanding of all of the pieces and where the numbers come from. I know this stuff is difficult to understand. You don’t have to memorize it. But here’s what I hope you take away from this three-part series:
- AYP as we know it is gone.
- Performance benchmarks (Annual Measurable Objectives, or AMOs) on standardized tests are now set by race, ethnicity, socioeconomic and disability status.
- Graduation rates are now set by race, ethnicity, socioeconomic and disability status.
- A Performance Index will be calculated for each school and district that will be made public.
- Our local schools will once again issue report cards showing us what’s happening in our local schools.
- Promises are made to help children in Priority Schools, Priority Districts, and Focus Schools.
- Schools that show great improvements will be identified as Reward Schools (similar to our current Torchbearers).
- The School Grading System will provide a very simplistic grade of how successful our schools are in educating our children.
All in all, under Plan 2020, which is what the waiver is based upon, we should have not only more information about how our schools are working, but that information should be more meaningful.
And we must remember to not rely on the simple A-F grade too much. There are multiple measures that are available that hopefully will be included in the local report cards that will once again be produced. We need to take the time to understand, even if it’s just on a basic level, what those measures tell us.
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