MONTGOMERY, Ala. — High schools dominate the new list of failing schools released by the Alabama Department of Education on Thursday, a reflection of how the state’s tenth-graders struggled with a new standardized test.
There are nearly 50 high schools on the list of 75 failing schools released under criteria set up under the lawmaker-mandated Alabama Accountability Act.
The state law requires the department to designate schools in the bottom 6 percent of standardized test scores as failing. Alabama tenth-graders took the ACT Aspire test, a standardized test designed to measure students’ progress toward college and career readiness, for the first time in 2016. Only 32 percent of tenth-graders scored proficient in reading. Eighteen percent scored as proficient in math.
Students in failing schools can transfer to other public schools if those schools will accept them. Families are also eligible for a tax credit, and taxpayer-backed scholarships, to help pay private schools. Families in failing schools have priority for the scholarships, but others can also obtain them.
Some public school educators criticized the methodology and purpose of the failing-school law. Jefferson County School Superintendent Craig Pouncey on Wednesday called the Accountability Act a covert attempt to create a voucher system and redirect state money to private schools. Pouncey said Wednesday that high schools are being judged on one grade’s performance on one test in a single year; high school success should be judged on multiple indicators, he said. Tenth-graders are the only high school students who take the Aspire test. All five of the schools from Jefferson County that were listed as failing were high schools.
Alabama Superintendent Michael Sentance said the department must implement the state law as it was written by lawmakers.
“There is no discretion on my part. It is what it is,” Sentance said.
Lawmakers who supported the Alabama Accountability Act said the purpose was to throw a lifeline to students enrolled in, or zoned for, chronically underperforming schools. Proponents and opponents of the program have clashed over just how much those students are being helped by the act.
The Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund, one of the largest organizations granting scholarships under the Alabama Accountability Act, reported awarding 2,005 scholarships this fall, according to a quarterly report filed with the Alabama Department of Revenue. Of those students, 849 were zoned to attend a school that was designated as failing.
This story has been corrected to show there are nearly 50 schools on the list, not more than 50.