Within the last few weeks, Alabama educators have been bombarded by test score results that do precious little to advance progress in our schools and have given politicians and non-educators ample opportunity to wring their hands and declare the sky is falling.
First came the annual school letter grade report that indicated significant improvement for many schools. This prompted some educators to put out press releases and past themselves on the back.
This bill was passed in 2012 and sponsored by Rep. Terri Collins of Decatur. Most educators saw it then for what it really is–virtually meaningless since it concentrates on only math and reading. To prove this point, remember that then state superintendent Tommy Bice appointed a blue-ribbon committee to work with Collins on developing a formula to determine school grades. This was chaired by then Mobile superintendent Martha Peek, who retired in 2018 with 47 years of experience.
Only one problem. They could not please Collins and after two years the committee disbanded. After several more efforts, a formula that satisfied Collins was cobbled together.
I am as guilty as anyone else of bragging about schools making improvement in their scores. But like any good educator, I know we are just playing games. I have talked to countless educators and they all agree that these scores are practically meaningless. Teaching students how to be better test takers is NOT education.
Just how foolish are these scores?
Another creation of the legislature shows us.
We passed the Alabama Accountability Act in 2013, the one that diverts money from the Education Trust Fund to give students scholarships to private schools. This law directs us to declare that the bottom six percent of all schools in the state should be labeled as “failing.”
Where I come from if you are “failing” you get an F. But not in Alabama.
The latest list of failing schools is now public. There are 75 schools on the list, including a charter school in Mobile. But did all 75 get an F on the school report card? Not even close.
Only 19 of them got an F, while 43 were D, 11 were C and two were B.
That’s right. A few weeks after being told they were a B school, J. F. Shields high in Monroe County and R. A. Hubbard high in Lawrence County were told they were “failing” schools.
No wonder educators get frustrated when they have to contend with this kind of politically created nonsense.
And now, fresh on the heels of such foolishness comes all the weeping and wailing about Alabama’s ranking on NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores. As we said here many times, NAEP scores are surely the most mis-understood and mis-interpreted measures in education. Go here and here.
So overnight here we go again. All the politicians and non-educators rush to decry the state of education in Alabama. It is as predictable as the sun coming up in the east every morning.
The best example of the silliness of giving too much credence to NAEP came in 2016 when Governor Robert Bentley cast the fifth and deciding vote to hire Massachusetts native Mike Sentance as state superintendent because Massachusetts had the highest 4th grade math scores in the nation according to NAEP. Bentley was convinced that somehow Sentance could push Alabama to the top of the pile because he had roots in Massachusetts.
And we all know how that experiment worked out.
Of course we must do better in Alabama. That has always been the case and always will be. But we need to listen to our best educators for how to go about it and ignore the politicians and non-educators who have proven over and over that they are clueless. And can’t make up their mind if J. F. Shields and R. A. Hubbard are good schools or terrible schools.