Fruithurst is one of those hamlets you have to look for to find.  It’s on old U.S. 78 in Cleburne County just a few miles from the Georgia line.  Christy Hiett grew up here, went to school here, and came back to teach after she graduated from Auburn University.  I first met her in 2008 when we researched ten high-poverty, high performing rural schools.  Today she is Dr. Christy Hiett.

It is truly an outstanding small school with 215 students in K-6.  There are seven schools in the Cleburne County system, Fruithurst has the highest poverty level of any of them.  Yet when you look at proficiency scores, their third, fifth and sixth grades are higher than Mountain Brook elementary, a school where no student is on a free-reduced lunch.

One of the things Christy points out below is that part of the A-F grade comes from improvement.  But in 2013, the third and fifth grades were 100 percent proficient in math and fifth grade was 100 percent in reading.  How do you grow when you are already 100 percent?

Dear Ms. Collins,

My name is Dr. Christy Hiett. I am the principal of Fruithurst Elementary School, in Cleburne County, Alabama. I have 22 years of experience in education, far more educational experience than the people in Montgomery that get to make bad decisions for education and our children in the State of Alabama.

I am writing to you today to express my concern over the A-F report card that the state of Alabama has adopted to publicly degrade schools across Alabama. I pray that my email doesn’t fall on deaf ears as I expect this to do, and as many educational items do in Montgomery.

I understand that the Alabama A-F report card is based on the following:

Academic achievement as measured by the scores in grades 3 through 8 and in grade 10 on the ACT Aspire from spring 2017,
How much student test scores have improved from one year to the next, i.e., from 3rd to 4th grade,
How many students graduated from high school in four years and in five years,
How many students earned indicators of college or career readiness, and
How many students miss 15 days of school or more, called a chronic absenteeism indicator.

I received my doctorate in School Improvement in 2015. The research was a tremendous process but the data that had to back up my research was even more extensive. In stating that, I feel that the A-F Report card would not have passed the grade in an actual doctoral program. It  is completely invalid. The first fact in stating that the report card is invalid comes from the use of the ACT Aspire. The ACT Aspire has a limited degree of reliability AND it doesn’t even align with the Alabama State Standards. The U.S. Department of Education has even declared this! Ironically, that assessment isn’t being used in Alabama this year, so… that means that even the Alabama State Department of Education must have thought the assessment wasn’t what Alabama needed. YET, we still used that assessment to assign a letter grade to schools all across the state. It is extremely sad, that after a declaration of such from the U.S. Department of Education, that this A-F Report Card was still used. Someone at the state level just simply didn’t do the homework on this!

Another flaw with this report card is the aspect of using “improvement” to grade a school. When the ARMT was our state assessment, FES scored extremely high, higher than some schools in the Auburn School System and higher than a lot of low-poverty schools. That spoke volumes for the children of FES, which has an enrollment of 75% poverty. the majority of our children are of poverty level, but they didn’t show it on the ARMT state assessment! They are fully capable of learning and have proven that over and over again. I have attached a spreadsheet that shows FES compared to other schools in Alabama, other schools of a much lower poverty level! This information can be verified on the Alabama State Department of Education’s website. Sadly, I really feel that no one did the homework in this area either, or this would have been noticed for many schools across the state. I am also sharing a spreadsheet that compares Fruithurst Elementary School to schools in Lee County… take a look at that data, which again, can be validated on the Alabama State Department of Education’s website. Just to validate my statements even more, I have attached a spreadsheet that shows ARMT scores for FES for a total of 9 years! Data is important when assigning a grade to anything, but it should NOT be a sole indicator alone! With this information I want you to see that we didn’t have much room for improvement at FES. Therefore, we were punished with a Report Card score of “C,” we were deemed “Average.” Ironically, not too long ago, FES was deemed highly successful and awarded the awards I mention below by the State of Alabama AND the U.S. Department of Education…. not too shabby for just a plain old “average” school. Funny how many schools that received a score of “A” or “B” have NEVER received such awards, nor shown the success that Fruithurst Elementary School has in the past!

Adding one more piece of evidence to my argument (because I know how to successfully implement research), SCHOOLS CAN NOT CONTROL STUDENT ATTENDANCE! I have tried every way imaginable to increase attendance and it is NOT humanly possible! I have tried awards of all sorts and it does not work, and there is research to back that up. Alabama’s Truancy Law is so lax that schools don’t have anything to hold against the parent for chronic absenteeism. Students can miss as many days as they want as long as a parent sends an excuse. There is absolutely nothing I can do about that as an administrator. Therefore, that portion of the report card should fall on YOU and many others as lawmakers of our great state. Educators can only do what the law allows us to do, laws in which you all in Montgomery pass. Parents find loop-holes and use them on a regular basis. Short of going to homes and forcing children to come to school, I don’t have any other tricks in my hat! That indicator is up to you all as lawmakers.

Actually after looking at the 5 indicators for the A-F Report Card, elementary schools can only be graded on 3 of the 5. Knowing what I have stated above about the “improvement” aspect, the bogus use of the ACT Aspire, and how that educators have NO control over attendance….. your research is deemed invalid for Fruithurst Elementary School receiving a score of “C,” AVERAGE! You and the State Department of Education have nothing to use to score FES as “average,” absolutely NOTHING! Sadly, I could give you about a 60 page document, full of professional research, to discredit the use of the other A-F Report Card indicators assessing graduation rate and earning indicators of college and career readiness. I would be happy to share that with you if you actually would read it.

After doing some research it appears that the schools with the highest poverty have received the lowest score, including Fruithurst Elementary School, the school at which I am the administrator. Ironically, FES was a National Blue Ribbon School in 2010. We went to Washington D.C. to receive this award from the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. We were honored for having high-poverty, yet being a high-performing school. We have also been a State Torchbearer School for multiple years in the past. We were also part of a study with the Alabama Department of Agriculture and deemed as one of the top 10 rural schools in the state of Alabama. Nothing has changed at FES. Not so sure how we can be the top of the top in one instance and receive a grade of a “C,” which equates “Average,” by the State of Alabama in another instance. Honestly, the people at the state level in Montgomery are speaking out of both sides of their mouth with this report card issue. Doesn’t surprise me that this happens because the people who make decisions for education in the state of Alabama just simply don’t use the most valid resource that is readily available… THE EDUCATORS! Please seek the assistance of the professionals that teach children each and every day. STOP trying to make decisions about education by yourself, the State Board of Education has proven they aren’t capable of making decisions about education… and I could give you a mile-long list with that research!

I would love to see Cleburne County School System publicly state that we have no confidence in this state A-F report card as a system, because as an administrator that has 22 years of experience, this is the worst thing I have seen the State of Alabama do to education, and I seriously do not have confidence in this A-F report card system. This is the WORST thing I have seen in my 22 years of experience, well…. maybe besides Governor Bentley stating that education in Alabama “sucks,” and ironically….  he was the President of the State Board of Education and Governor when this law was passed in 2012, and I will add with this the decision to hire Michael Sentence as the State Superintendent of Education, but I could go on and on about horrible decisions that have been made for education in the State of Alabama.

Things must change in education for the State of Alabama… they just simply MUST. That change can not take place without research, and certainly not without the input of educators in this state. I am beginning to wonder if lawmakers are actually scared for Alabama educators to be part of such decision-making… WE would probably change things in education toward the positive and that would make all of these past bad decisions look even worse!

Maybe an A-F Report Card should be put into place for Alabama lawmakers…. wonder how well that would sit with you all in Montgomery? Maybe we could use indicators that you all have no control over… that seems pretty fair to me considering that is what has been done to schools across Alabama. Maybe such indicators could include the increase of drug use that causes my students to be absent. What about the increase of the amount of people in prison that forces my students into foster care, which can have tremendous emotional impacts on a child and causes school to be the least of his/her worries. One great idea would be for your A-F Report Card to be tied to chronic absenteeism for school students… you don’t have any more control of that than I do, but this seems seriously fair for your A-F Report Card! Another great idea would be to tie an indicator to your report card based on DHR cases for my students, maybe when DHR fails our students you get a bad score on your report card, something you have no control over either.

I hope you take at least one thing away from this email… I want you and all Alabama lawmakers to understand that YOU do not have all the answers for education by yourself. Trust in the great educators of this state to help you do what is needed for the children of Alabama!

Please feel free to contact me at work at 256-579-2232, on my cell 256-201-7762, or by the email address in this email, because there are multiple things I haven’t expressed in this email. I would love to talk to you or anyone else that was part of this A-F Report Card decision because I don’t want my complaint or the complaints of other educators to fall on deaf ears… we are just sick of that taking place.

Sincerely,

Dr. Christy Hiett, Principal
Fruithurst Elementary School
How does it get any more “real” than this?  But Rep. Collins has already shown she does not pay attention to educators.  A blue-ribbon committee of educators from around the state worked with Collins for two years trying to develop an equitable A-F grading system.  But they could not please her and finally abandoned this effort.

Sad, sad, sad commentary on what how we are treating public education.