Haleyville has about 4,000 citizens, give or take a few.  It’s in the northwest corner of Winston County and just a tad in Marion.  It was the home of my late friend state school board member, Gary Warren.  Probably its major claim to fame is that it had the country’s first 9-1-1 service in 1968.

It has its own school system of 1,631 students.  And Holly Sutherland runs the school system as superintendent.  Like most superintendents in Alabama right now, she is not happy about the ridiculous A-F school report card system.  To prove it, she put the pen to paper so to speak and posted the following:

We Will Not Be Defined by a Letter Grade

In 2012 Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur) introduced a bill in the state Legislature requiring each school district in the state of Alabama to be assigned a single annual letter grade. The law passed over the objection of educators and state education officials. Since the passing of the law, the task of finding a fair and equitable way to grade all school districts around the state by the same measure has been challenging to say the least. Although law makers and educators remain at odds, the State will issue a report card to all districts in Alabama and it will be released to the public on February 1, 2018.

Why would educators be opposed to a report card? We are not opposed to a report card that uses multiple measures in an equitable way to report success or the lack of success in academic achievement/growth, meeting college/career ready standards, meeting graduation rates and student success measures. We are however opposed to a report that grades schools (almost entirely) from one test, the ACT ASPIRE, which is a test that was discontinued by the State Board of Education in 2017 due to a number of concerns. Two of these concerns are that the ACT ASPIRE has a limited degree of reliability and the test does not align with Alabama state standards. The U.S. Department of Education also declared that the alignment of the ACT ASPIRE and the Alabama State Standards could not be proven.

In Haleyville City Schools, we welcome an accountability measure that balances the reporting of our student achievement and growth with other indicators of student performance, preparedness and success. We would like to see a report card that fairly acknowledges at least a few of the components that we feel are relevant and fair when reporting our success and effectiveness of educating our diverse population of students. What we do not want is a report card that unfairly penalizes schools that are faced with unique challenges of rural, lower-income factors that impact us daily.

We welcome a report that acknowledges that 87% of the students in Haleyville High School are in career and technical education classes which better prepare them for college and the workforce, one that recognizes the importance of workplace soft-skill development, one that recognizes that students work to receive college credit and have at times graduated with an associates degree from a junior college before graduating from high school, one that recognizes the millions of dollars of scholarship money granted to our students, one that acknowledges that we have students graduating from HHS with a CNA or paramedic certification and one where college acceptance and military commitment is more than only a small fraction of the grade. We want a report card that does not unfairly categorize students who work hard to keep up or catch up after having cancer, lose their homes to fire, become pregnant, have concussions, or attend school-sponsored field trips, to name a few… as chronically absent.

To better understand our concerns as educators, I want to break down how schools receive a letter grade according to the current report card. Haleyville Elementary and Haleyville Middle School are considered “schools without a grade 12”. For HES and HMS, 40% of the grade is based on Academic Achievement and 50% of the grade is based on Academic Growth. 10% of the grade on the report card will be based on Chronic Absenteeism (percent of students who missed 15 days or more for any reason, excused or unexcused). As you can see, 90% of the grade these two schools receive will be based on a test that the Alabama State Board of Education has gotten rid of due to its unreliability and non-alignment with state standards. Dr. Mark Neighbors, Superintendent of Opelika City Schools, did a quick calculation of the percentage of the school day the ACT ASPIRE tests in the areas of Math and Reading for a 3rd grader-

180 days of school
360 minutes minimum per day of instruction
64,800 minutes total instruction
130 minutes set aside for 3rd grade reading and math assessment
130/64,800 = 0.2 percent of the school year

Based on this calculation, 90% of a grade that every elementary and middle school in the state will receive is based on .002 percent of the school year AND is based on a test found to be unreliable. I cannot speak for all educators or superintendents, but I find this to be an unfair way to grade student/school success.

The overall grade calculation for Haleyville City Schools as well as the grade for Haleyville High School is a bit different due to these two being considered “schools without a grade 12”. Both HCS and HHS receive 20% of the grade based on Academic Achievement, 30% based on Academic Growth, 30% based on Graduation Rate, 10% based on College and Career Readiness and 10% based on Chronic Absenteeism. With all of the focus around the state on preparing students for the workforce and jobs in our communities, it seems hypocritical to then give a report card that values academic performance substantially higher than College and Career Readiness. It also seems extremely unfair to penalize students at the highschool level for educational trips, sports related absences, etc… which are calculated in the chronic absenteeism percentage.

On February 1, 2018 Haleyville City Schools, along with all school districts around the state of Alabama, will receive their first A-F Report Card since the early 2000’s. This report card will be a valuable tool that HCS will use to continue to evaluate ourselves, our practices and our teaching and learning. This report will be used to help us identify areas of improvement and focus for our school district. BUT this report card will not define us as a school district. No matter the letter grade we receive as a district and as individual schools, we define ourselves by more indicators than just one letter grade, just as we define our students by more than one indicator of success. Do we need to continue to find ways to educate our students at the highest levels possible? Of course we do and you can guarantee that we will.

The 2017-2018 school year has been one where we have set higher standards for teaching and learning in the Haleyville City School System. Our administrative team at all levels have attended training and participated in collaborative learning opportunities where we have learned more about increasing rigor and learning about how we can better ensure we are mastering state standards through the administration of interim assessments. Teachers have worked to develop these interim assessments that help gauge student mastery of standards and drive instruction.

Teachers at every school have worked in Professional Learning Communities to increase the depth of knowledge (DOK) in their classrooms. Teachers and staff have attended professional development to support increasing student achievement in our schools. Students at HHS are engaged in R.O.A.R. (Raising Our Academic Readiness) which focuses students understanding their own data through data notebooks as well as uses ACT prep materials and programs. Our district has maintained our math focus. We attribute our gains in math on the ACT and other assessment measures on this focus. We work hard daily to grow and improve as a school district and student success is of utmost importance.

At Haleyville City Schools our teachers and staff are amazing and work to do what is best for our students on a daily basis. We have awesome students who work hard to accomplish great things. We are blessed with an amazing community who supports our efforts to ensure that students are well-rounded citizens when they leave our school system.

On February 1st, the state will attempt to define us by a single letter grade, but we know that we are more multidimensional than a single letter grade. We will use this grade to help us grow, but it will not define us. We will continue to Serve with Pride, Lead with Confidence and Inspire to Impact Others. We will continue to serve our students and this community with pride and value the tradition of excellence expected of our school system. No matter the letter, we are proud to be Haleyville City Schools and we will continue to work to be the best school district around! 

As you can readily tell, Holly is passionate about her schools, teachers and students.  I could name dozens, even hundreds, of other educators who are equally passionate.

Of the 140 present members of our legislators, 80 of them were in office in 2012 and voted for this bill.  (54 Republican, 25 Democrats and 1 Independent)  (Go here to see a list of them.)

I wish they could all visit Holly Sutherland and her schools.