Educators express concern with AL school report card calculations

Educators express concern with AL school report card calculations
(Source: WSFA 12 News)

DOTHAN, AL (WSFA) - Pleased, but not satisfied. That's how Houston County Superintendent David Sewell describes the system's state report card grade.

The system got an overall grade of 84. Within the system, two schools received an A (Rehobeth Elementary and Wicksburg High School), three schools received a B (Cottonwood High School, Rehobeth High School, and Webb Elementary), and four schools received a C grade (Ashford High School, Ashford Elementary, Houston County High School, and Rehobeth Middle School).

Sewell says the data on the state report card did more than show the strengths and weakness of the school system. "It also exposed me to the strengths and weaknesses with the report card itself and the process in which it was developed."

During a press conference Tuesday, Sewell raised concerns about several factors used to calculate grades of Alabama school systems and schools – including the ACT Aspire Test used in calculations, which has been deemed not suited for Alabama students.

Sewell also expressed concerns about attendance in calculations.

"The report card grouped unexcused and excused absences together under 'Chronic Absenteeism'. This punished schools that had many students who were truly sick and homebound," the superintendent stated.

One of the big concerns brought up during the press conference was changes to the grading system, which Sewell says impacted schools with lower level students. He says the state told schools that don't have 12th-grade students they would be graded on a section called "Local Indicators", which looks at how a school is working to reach an academic goal they set.

Sewell says another graded section was supposed to look at a schools' "Program Review", which looks at parent involvement. He says the sections were missing and the grading values for other sections were changed as late as December.

"Some of these items were not used or changed. This cost us time and money. Plus, we felt like if these items we put time and money into had been used, many of our schools that scored a C would have been in the B range," Sewell believes.

Ashford Elementary is one of the schools Sewell thinks was negatively impacted by the change. They missed getting a B on the report card by a single point.

"When I first saw the letter grade, it was disappointing," said Denise Kohen, Ashford's principal. "When we give report cards to our students here it's all about their grades, their attitude, their desire, and their knowledge. That's not what these report cards are."

Kohen says the school worked hard to meet the initial requirements given by the school system and doesn't know why they were changed.

"We showed tremendous growth, which is what they asked us to do at the state department. And then you get the report card and it's, 'Oh, by the way, it's not going to be on there.' Those kinds of things. You don't change your target," Kohen stated.

Sewell says he even thought the overall system grade would have been a high B. Regardless, he says Houston County Schools will continue to work to meet the standards set by the state.

Educators do hope in the future, report card grading will change.

"Regardless of where that child started, what have you done with him all year long? To me, that's more of a true reflection of what's happening in the life of that child," Kohen said.

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