My jaw dropped recently when I heard someone from the Alabama State Department of Education say that local school systems are using the A-F school report cards to identify strengths and weaknesses.
Wow. I have just surveyed dozens of school system superintendents from one end of the state to the other–and THAT is not what they told me.
Among the questions I asked was: At the end of the day, have these report cards been of benefit to your system in any way?
Here is a sampling of what they told me: “I see no benefit to our school system.” “Not in the least.” “Zero.” “No benefit.” “Not even slightly.” “I can’t see much benefit.” “No benefit at all.” “The report card has further tainted our public perception and has not been helpful.” “Little to none.” “Absolutely none at all.” “Considering the demoralizing effect on individuals who have done a yeoman’s job in the past, this report card is not good for our system or the state.”
I also wanted to know, What was reaction in your community? Or did anyone pay any attention?
The consensus was that hardly anyone noticed. Here are some responses: “Had no reaction.” “Parents and those who support public education were concerned that report cards did not truly depict their schools and their achievements. However, those who oppose public schools used these scores in a negative way.” “Very little attention.” “I had two people ask me about a school grade. One lady at church and one phone call from a local business owner.” “Outside of principals and central office staff, not one single person mentioned the report cards.”
What was reaction from principals and staff in schools that got C, D or F?
“School staffs were dismayed because all work extremely hard. Students were also deeply concerned about lower grades. Even though all recognize that this is an extremely flawed process, everyone wants their school represented with a good grade. The reality is there is no test, no sound measure of progress or anyone at the state department of education who can substantiate this process.” “Our elementary school had a 79 and the principal and staff were heartbroken. Growth and attendance were great, but when you have 200 students who don’t speak English fluently, achievement is nearly impossible.to achieve at the same level of schools without this situation.”
“Most principals and staff were very upset with a C because most of what happens at school is not even considered when the report card grade is issued.” “Principals and staff felt very overwhelmed and disappointed.” “Frustration because of the way the score was calculated and because they see every day what is taking place in their school and what kids are dealing with” “The principal whose school got a D was very disappointed. Her school is in a community with very high poverty, but it is a good school and a negative grade like this does nothing but drive people away”
“Many principals feel they are being portrayed as incompetent. They know they are doing the best they can with the resources they have. One said that if he had 25 years of service, he would retire and leave education.”
I also asked, Should this law be repealed?
As you can imagine, this got a resounding “YES.” Only one superintendent suggested that the process be amended to be more comprehensive.
Some samples: “This law is intended to privatize public education and further segregate our society.” “ABSOLUTELY, it should have never been passed.” “This report card is a very shortsighted attempt to label schools, not improve them.”
A-F was terrible legislation when passed in 2012. Everyone in education knew it. But as is too often the case, no one listened to people who actually understand what is taking places in our schools.
Now we have proof it was terrible.
So do we do what is best for our students and all who work diligently to guide them each day, admit our mistake, and correct it? Or do we cling desperately to false assumptions simply because some politicians put their own pride above the welfare of our children?
That choice is so clear there is no need for debate.
No doubt you are tired of reading posts about how dumb the A-F school report cards are. And I am tired of writing about this fiasco.
But then I come across another example of how truly silly it is and can’t help telling you about it. Each year the Council for Leaders of Alabama Schools (CLAS) holds an awards ceremony to recognize BANNER schools. These are not run-of-mill places, but schools that are working with all their might to make a change in the lives of their students.
There are eight districts for the state school board. So three schools are selected for each district and then one selected as the district winner. CLAS holds a luncheon at the RTJ golf course in Prattville for the occasion. Several hundred folks attend. This year’s event was Feb. 26. I was there. So were six of the eight state board members. Along with lots of superintendents, principals and teachers.
Like all of us, they appreciate a pat on the back. And this one is well-deserved.
Schools are nominated by local systems and a carefully chosen group of educators narrows them down to three per district. Then another committee looks these 24 over and picks the outstanding school in each district.
After the luncheon, I couldn’t wait to look at each banner school and see how the A-F report cards graded them. You guessed it, once again the report card grades made no sense at all. Of the top eight (one per district) four got a D, one a C, and three were Bs.
And of all the schools recognized, there was one F, six Ds, four Cs, eight Bs and three As. (I could not find two being honored on the A-F report card list. Maybe they just got lost.)
Which is what we should work toward for the A-F grading system. Get lost. I keep reading articles where people try and defend this mess by saying it is good to have conversations about the failures. But you cannot defend a process like this that simply makes no sense. We’ve long since run out of lipstick to put on this pig.
After the luncheon I spoke to a member of the final judging committee, who is also on the state school board. She made no attempt to defend A-F. She thinks it is a farce.
Here are the schools that were recognized.
District 1–Baker high, Mobile County system; Citronelle high, Mobile system and Mary B. Austin elementary school, Mobile system.
District 2–Eufaula primary, Eufaula system, Kinston school, Coffee County system, Lance elementary, Lanett City system.
District 3–Childersburg Middle, Talladega County system, Meadow View elementary, Alabaster city system, Montevallo elementary, Shelby County system.
District 4–Central elementary, Tuscaloosa city system, Paul W. Bryant high, Tuscaloosa city, Westlawn middle, Tuscaloosa city.
District 5–Booker T. Washington high, Macon County system, Pike County high, Pike County system, U.S. Jones elementary, Demopolis city system.
District 6–Boaz high, Boaz city system, Cullman City primary, Cullman city system, Hartselle Intermediate, Hartselle city system.
District 7–Florence high, Florence city system, Howell Graves preschool, Muscle Shoals city system, Russellville high, Russellville city system.
District 8–James Clemens high, Madison city system, Mill Creek elementary, Madison city, Riverton Elementary, Madison County system.
The overall winners for each district were: Mary B. Austin elementary, Eufaula Primary, Childersburg middle, Paul W. Bryant high, Booker T. Washington high, Boaz high, Russellville high and Riverton elementary.
Congratulations to all the students, faculty, support personnel and administrators at these schools for the job they are doing.
And for A-F, you were a joke when passed by the legislature in 2012 and that has now been confirmed.
Winfield straddles the Marion and Fayette county lines about 75 miles northwest of Birmingham. Probably its greatest claim to fame is the annual “Mule Day” celebration each September.
But in education circles, Winfield has long been known for a small, but excellent, city school system which is only three schools and just over 1,200 students. However, it is good. In fact, the infamous A-F school report card released recently says Winfield elementary is an A school, while the middle and high schools get a B.
And though their schools scored well, the Winfield school board has no faith in the A-F system and recently passed a resolution calling for a vote of no confidence in the A-F process. In doing so, Winfield joins school boards in Marion County, Chambers County and Eufaula that previously did the same.
Keith Davis is the Winfield superintendent of education. This is his 33rd year in education.
“Although we are proud of our student’s’ achievement on the ACT Aspire (the test most of the A-F grades are based upon) we believe that the report card is an inadequate measurement tool because the Aspire is insufficient for the purpose of assigning grades,” explains Davis. “Additionally, the report card fails to recognize innovative and relevant practices such as STEM and project-based learning.”
The Winfield resolution makes the point that this new grading system relies heavily on data from a test that the state no longer uses because it is not properly aligned to our state standards. In other words we are testing students about things they have never been taught and then using this information to label 104 schools in Alabama with an F.
It’s a joke. But not one that is funny. Thanks to Winfield for having the good sense to speak out.
Stemley Road elementary school has been a fixture in Talladega County for years. In fact, you pass the “old” school to get to the “new” one on highway 34 northwest of downtown Talladega. It is hardly a wealthy community as the school has the highest poverty rate (90 percent) of any of the 17 in the system.
Michelle Head is in her fourth year as principal. I first met her when she was in charge of Sycamore elementary just outside of Sylacauga. This school received the state’s Torchbearer award in 2013. I was there to interview Michelle and take pictures that were part of a video presentation the night Torchbearer schools from around the state were recognized in Montgomery. Michelle and superintendent Suzanne Lacey were invited to sit with Governor and Mrs. Bentley at dinner.
Now in her 25th year in education, Michelle has long proven her capacity to handle the 101 duties of a principal in a very challenging school. She is good. I mean really good. And I’ve never seen anyone more passionate about all the students in a school. To her, they are as much one of her “babies” as her own two daughters.
But according to the state A-F school report card, Michelle is a failure because her school got an F. Which means that all of her 412 students, teachers, support personnel, even bus drivers, are considered failures too. After all, if you get an F, you are a failure. It doesn’t matter that she spends 60+ hours each week doing her job, or that she knows all 412 students by name, or that she constantly deals with issues that have absolutely nothing to do with a classroom.
No. None of matters. Instead, she is defined by a single letter grade, just like some people once were given a scarlet A so the world would know of their shortcomings.
After Michelle took me on a tour of her school, stopping many times along the way for hugs, we spent 45 minutes in her office. The best way to describe her looks that day were “frazzled.” And when she talked about how hard her teachers work, the exasperation was easy to spot. She told me how demeaning and demoralizing the F was to her faculty.
She talked about the challenges they face each day. Children from foster homes, drug issues in the community, bus routes that run for up to 90 minutes one way, mental health issues, little stability in so many homes. About an ever-growing number of ESL students, about those who have to be fed through feeding tubes, those on the autism spectrum.
“I tell my teachers that if they can survive here for one year, they can work anywhere” she told me. “And even though we have seen tremendous growth in some students, that evidently doesn’t matter. We’re still an F.”
Besides Stemley, there are 103 other F schools in Alabama. Schools that now must live with the stigma of being known as failing. These are the schools in greatest need of good teachers. But who wants to work in a failing school? (Which is the very reason the legislature in Virginia repealed their A-F school grading system.)
You can find a list of every representative and every senator who is in office today and voted for the A-F bill in 2012 by going here. (Talladega County is represented in Montgomery by two senators and three house members. All of them voted “Yea” on this legislation.)
Wonder how many of them would like to go to Stemley and face Michelle and her teachers and students and tell them they are failures? I doubt a single one.
Since these grades came out a few weeks ago, some have tried to defend them by claiming they are a great starting point for a conversation about education and that we should be positive about them.
My response? There ain’t a damn thing positive about telling Michelle Head she is a failure.
A few days ago, I told you about my trip to Dadeville Elementary in Tallapoosa County to be interviewed by their sixth-grade TV crew for one of their morning broadcasts. These are broadcast on the Tiger News Network (TNN). You can find them on YouTube
The anchors that morning who interviewed me were Addison Spates and Alana Tolbert. That’s Addison on the left and Alana on the right in the picture. The identity of the big guy is yet to be determined.
It is not uncommon for me to wear orange and blue since I am a proud Auburn University grad. And I did the morning I became a TV personality. Addison let me know he is an Auburn fan—but Alana made no bones about the fact she likes the University of Alabama.
Well, me being me, I had to spring into action. So off I went to a store that has about 4 million Auburn T-shirts and got two of them. And on Valentine’s Day I went to Dadeville Elementary again to deliver the shirts. Alana was a trooper and put hers on right away and promised she would wear it the rest of the day.
While at the school, I had the pleasure of meeting the mothers of both Alana and Addison. That was neat and I appreciated them being there
This is a fine school with lots of community support and a super faculty and students. Oh, the new state report card says it is a C school. Which I believe is just more proof of how stupid this grading system is.
As far back as I can remember of my school days, getting an F was the end of the world. You were not just low on the totem pole–you were somewhere way down under it.
Of course I knew about As, Bs, Cs and Ds too. And I figured that an F was so bad that whoever came up with the grading system just plum skipped right over a grade of E. I mean, they wanted everyone to know that an F was in a category all by itself.
But in Alabama, thanks to the collective wisdom of our legislature and some of the wacky laws they pass, you can be labeled as “failing” even though your grade is higher than an F. And on the other hand, you can get an F and not be considered failing.
Of course it is ridiculous and makes no sense at all. But consider the source.
In 2013 we passed the Alabama Accountability Act that says each year we have to come up with a “failing” school list made up of the bottom six percent of all schools. This list was released in January and has 75 schools on it. And in 2012 we passed a bill saying that all schools should be given a letter grade of A-F. That list came out a couple of weeks ago.
Now my Auburn educated logic tells me that if you are a “failing” school, then you must have an F as a grade.
But not in Alabama. Not according to the 2012 law and the 2013 law.
For instance, Monroe County high school and Linden high school are both on the “failing’ school list. But they both got a C on the A-F report card. Say what? In fact, of the 75 schools on the failing list, less than one-half of them got an F.
Take Montgomery County school system for example. The one in the news so much these days. The one that is under state intervention. The same system that former state superintendent Mike Sentance used as his guinea pig for ideas that don’t work and money ill-spent.
According to the state, Montgomery had 11 failing schools. But according to the A=F list, they had 17 F schools. And nine of the F schools were not on the failing list–while three Montgomery high schools on the failing list did not get an F.
Confused? I don’t blame you. None of this makes any sensel. And people wonder why educators get stressed out these days. Is there a slight chance it is because of nonsense such as this?