Despite improvements in student performance, nine Mobile County public schools were once again included on the list of failing schools associated with the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA).
The announcement came only weeks after the district celebrated some major gains in the school report cards issued by the Alabama Department of Education (ALSDE), but local school officials say the report cards offer a broader evaluation of how schools are performing.
It’s worth noting multiple schools on this year’s list earned C’s and D’s on their respective report cards, even though they were deemed failing under the AAA, which defines any school in the bottom 6 percent of statewide reading and math scores as failing.
The AAA further allows students attending those schools to transfer to other, nonfailing public or private schools. It also created a system of tax credits for individuals and corporations that donate to scholarship programs which send low-income students to private schools.
This year there were 76 schools on the statewide list. Locally, those included B.C. Rain High School, Washington Middle School, Calloway Smith Middle School, Mobile County Training Middle School, Morningside Elementary School, Pillans Middle School, Chastang-Fournier Middle School, Vigor High School and Williamson High School.
LeFlore High School, Blount High School and Scarborough Middle School were on the list last year but managed to improve their test scores enough to come off the list in 2019.
Even though the number of Mobile County Public Schools (MCPSS) on the statewide list did not drop from 2018 to 2019, Superintendent Chresal Threadgill noted almost all of the schools deemed failing under the AAA this year saw improved scores on statewide standardized tests.
“We are disappointed that any of our schools made the list,” Threadgill wrote in a statement. “We have been reviewing the test scores this is based upon for several months now and most of the schools had improved. We will continue to make progress and get these schools off the list.”
Spokesperson Rena Philips said the number of schools on the list this year was actually a surprise for MCPSS officials. The failing designation is based on standardized tests, which this year included the ACT taken by juniors and the result of the 2018 Scantron assessments.
While officials have had those test results back for some time, they were unaware where they’d fall in comparison to other schools around the state.
“Just looking at the test scores, we had done better on the tests and also improved on the school report cards. But looking around the state, other schools also improved,” Philips said. “Even if schools are improving, there is always going to be 6 percent of schools on the list.”
Of the nine MCPSS schools on the list, all but one saw improvements on the recent school report cards. Washington and Mobile County Training middle schools both improved from an F to C, and three others improved by one letter grade to either a D or a C.
According to Philips, Vigor and B.C. Rain were also recently recognized by ALSDE for having the highest rate of students earning college- and career-ready credentials in the state, with 99 percent and 95 percent of their students, respectively, graduating with some kind of workplace credential.
Philips said the disconnect between the two accountability standards exists at least in part because the ALSDE school report cards are more comprehensive than the measurements of student performance laid out in the text of the AAA when it was written in 2013.
“The report cards are based on that test score but also on student growth throughout the year, attendance and, for high schools, the graduate rate and several college- and career-readiness indicators,” Philips said. “One is just a test score, while the other has multiple ways schools can show they’re working and that their students are successful.”
That said, school officials have already acknowledged that many schools in the county still have work to do. Threadgill, who is still in his first year as superintendent, said the district is already taking steps to improve the scores at schools on the failing list as well as others throughout the county.
He said some of those “instructional interventions” include providing more professional development for teachers and working to improve students’ motivation and the accountability for their performance in school.
“This summer we began a transformational process at these and several other schools, and we are collaborating with the state to utilize some of their expertise to assist us in this process,” Threadgill said. “We also have assembled our own transformational teams that consist of experts in areas ranging from curriculum to facilities who are going into these schools and assessing their individual needs so we can be prescriptive in our approach.”
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