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‘Failing schools’

Officials have plan to improve test scores


News Staff Writer

Although the inclusion of two schools — Escambia County High and W.S. Neal High — on the state’s “failing schools” list is discouraging, county school system administrators promise that, if everything goes as planned, future lists won’t include either of them.
New policies and procedures and a comprehensive school improvement plan should take care of the stigma attached to local schools, especially ECHS, which has been on the list for five successive years.
“The measures we are putting into place and our support will ultimately improve instruction, teaching and learning,” Assistant Superintendent of Education Michele Collier said. “These are not failing schools, and you won’t see them on the list. Escambia County High is a great school, and that’s going to show in the data because we’ve put plans in place to help them.”
Those plans include walk-throughs of each school, discussions with teachers and students and test preparation in each class of 10th and 11th graders. Collier said early results are more than encouraging.
“We’re seeing that happen already,” she said of the improvement at ECHS. “The climate and culture of that school are much improved. You can tell the expectations are there. If you’re a student and you don’t know what’s expected of you, it’s hard to know why (the test score) is so important. That’s a huge key.”
Each school’s report card is based on scores juniors make on the four-hour ACT test. Collier admitted that getting that age group to buy into the importance of solid test scores is no easy feat.
“It’s really difficult to take a 15-year-old or 16-year-old and hold them accountable for four hours without putting other measures in place that can really help us and shine on what we’re doing,” she said.
To help fortify each student’s readiness for the test, which is in a completely different format than classroom lessons, each teacher at that level is now required to spend part of each period making students more familiar with the test format and the information included on it.
“Part of every day and every class period is 15 minutes of ACT preparation, activities that prepare students for the ACT,” Collier explained. “If we don’t give them an idea what the test looks like, there’s no way for them to understand what the test will be like. They’re using the tools that have been provided to help them prepare for the test.
“The test is structured differently from classroom learning, so if we don’t practice it, we will never improve on it. If we didn’t have that, we would be in no different position than we were. That’s why it is our focus. Now they know this is for their future, so we have to give them a purpose.”
The assistant superintendent, who is a WSN graduate, said the ultimate goal is for students to become self-monitoring in order to help improve their own test performance. She also pointed out that students will be judged on their ACT score, even if they don’t plan to further their education by attending college.
“Even if a student’s goal is career, not college, everyone is looking at your ACT score; that is a measure of you,” Collier said. “Creating awareness for students as to why this test is so important to them, that it does impact us as a district, but it also impacts them as a person who might want to go to technical school or might want to go on to a college and / or a career, is crucial.”
She also talked about how COVID and distance or virtual learning played a part in the overall test scores for ECHS and WSN. School officials and teachers are trying to strengthen the system’s academic foundation so as to meet the requirements of the Alabama Literacy Act, which requires third-grade students to read at a third-grade level before being promoted, and to eventually strengthen each high school’s ACT scores.
“Like anything, you inspect what you expect,” she said. “We’ve made a focused effort to work on reading and math so we can build that foundation and have better prepared students. I think you’re going to see tremendous gains next year.”
The county school system’s overall report card grade was 77, a drop of eight points from last year. ECHS scored a 62, with only 60.87 academic growth; Escambia County Middle School scored a 56, with a 67.70 academic growth figure; while Huxford Elementary (77; 95.21) and Rachel Patterson (78; 98.56) each continued to post passing grades.