Escambia County High School has for the second straight year been listed by state education officials as a failing school and has been given an “F” in the initial year of using a letter grade to assess the success or failure of individual schools.
But the county system’s top administrator said last week he has no confidence in the method used in computing the letter grade, a method he said is filled with shortcomings.
Escambia County Superintendent of Education John Knott and Assistant Superintendent Beth Drew discussed ECHS’s failing grade and the criteria that landed it on the list during a briefing with local media following Congressman Bradley Byrne’s January 25 visit to Rachel Patterson Elementary School.
Knott first pointed out that the Alabama State Department of Education’s list of failing schools is based on math and reading results posted by sophomores from the 2017 ACT Aspire test, a standardized exam that state officials have since voted to discontinue using as a yardstick for determining a school’s success or failure.
“I have no confidence in this test being an accurate depiction of academic achievement in our schools,” the superintendent said. “The ACT Aspire test was created as a formative measure of where your students are on their journey to reaching the goal for the ACT when they take it in high school. It did not measure and take into account what we were teaching — grade-level and skill-level appropriate — to match with that test, and that was the problem.”
He said it seems unfair that the performance of one group of students, on just one test, could be used to judge whether a particular school was succeeding or failing in its mission.
“That failing grade comes strictly, 100-percent from that test, period,” said Knott. “It doesn’t take into consideration graduation rates; it doesn’t take into consideration things we’re doing with our career-preparedness programs … it doesn’t take into account attendance or the activities and programs that we’re doing.
“In my opinion, it is a misrepresentation of what our students’ achievements are. It did not assess the academic levels of our juniors or freshmen or seniors, but the state is saying this is a depiction of what that school is doing. It seems like something should have been done to say that we have invalid data. It’s wrong to report something that you know is incorrect. I’m really disappointed that adjustments were not made.”
Drew said school officials, teachers and staff members wasted a lot of valuable time gathering data that was supposed to have been, but wasn’t, used on the state assessment.
“On the A-F report card, we’ve been — for lack of a better term — jerked around so much,” Drew explained. “At one time they were going to count program reviews (on the 2015-16 report), and we would get points for that. We began collecting data … but they decided to throw it out. Again this year we did all that, and we found out yesterday that they’re not looking at that anymore.”
“We spend thousands of dollars and thousands of manhours developing all this stuff,” he said. (“Jumping through all those hoops,” Drew interjected.) “It’s frustrating. You have an assessment that the feds, the state superintendent and the state school board have done away with, yet you still have a law that says you have to report that (information).”
Knott said the effort to educate students has apparently become secondary to fulfilling the state’s requirement for statistical data that is either useless in assessing a school’s performance, or is flawed from the beginning.
“We’re pulled in so many directions and have to meet so many mandates that it takes time, money and energy away from what we’re supposed to be doing,” he said. “(The failing grade for ECHS) is going to create concern, and it should, from people who do care about our community.
“But it is what it is; we just have to continue to move forward.”