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‘Failing schools’ list released – Designation based on 1 exam

Alabama public high schools received a jolt last week with the release of the Alabama Department of Education’s “failing school” list. The determination of whether or not a school is a “failing” school is based on one test taken one time by tenth-grade students.

Escambia County High School is one of 75 public schools statewide that have been designated by the Department of Education as “failing schools,” based on the results of ACT Aspire tests taken last spring by sophomores.

Several public education officials have denounced the use of the “failing school” criteria, since it marked the first time the ACT Aspire exam for math and reading had been administered to 10th-graders, and the results indicated low proficiency ratings across the state.

Jefferson County Superintendent Craig Pouncey, whose system had five schools on the list, said he felt it was improper to use first-time administration of any standardized test as a basis for labeling a school a failure.

Changes made to the Alabama Accountability Act in 2015 altered the determination of whether or not a school was failing in its mission to educate the state’s students.

Previously, a school had to rank in the bottom 6 percent for three of the previous six years to be classified as a failing school. Now, the designation is given if the school ranks among the bottom 6 percent in the previous year’s testing.

Two other schools in the Atmore area – Hillcrest High in Evergreen and Monroe County High in Monroeville – were included on the list, which also included 13 schools in the Birmingham City system, 10 Montgomery County schools and eight that are part of the Mobile County system.

Education columnist Larry Lee claims in this week’s column (which appears in today’s Atmore News) that a teacher in North Alabama said her school’s sophomores were told that the test would have no impact on their grades, prompting many to “just zip through it.”