Graduate numbers down

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 15, 2007

This is the second story in a three-part series on the Selma City School System.

By Cassandra Mickens

The Selma Times-Journal

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The Spring 2007 Alabama High School Graduation Exam results are in: 52 of Selma High School’s 203 seniors will not earn their diplomas in May – a number that is intolerable for the City of Selma Board of Education.

“We’re not pleased with these results,” said Board Member Debra Howard. “We are very concerned.”

According to results presented by Howard, of the 30 seniors who took the reading portion of the AHSGE, 26 failed and four passed. Of the 33 seniors who took the language portion, 26 failed and seven passed.

Of the 46 seniors who took the science portion, 22 failed and 24 passed. Of the 38 seniors who took the math portion, 21 failed and 17 passed. Of the 27 students who took the social studies portion, 26 failed and one passed.

While 74 percent of seniors passed the AHSGE, the board wants to delve into the root of the problem. School officials say the 52 senior failures, comprised of 39 regular students and 13 special education students, is the largest number they’ve seen in years.

When asked by the board what needs to be done, Penny Williams, Selma City Schools’ pupil testing coordinator, said a little help from parents would be a start. Williams said Selma High recently held a meeting for the parents of the 52 students. Only eight parents attended.

Board Member John Williams countered, saying the schools are responsible for students’ education and the “parents rely on us.”

“We need to look at what we’ve done badly,” he said. “The elementary and middle schools are doing well, but when (students) get to high school, something is awfully wrong.”

Board Member Coley Chestnut challenged the board to “invest in our kids” by doing whatever it takes to ensure academic achievement. Chestnut suggested the board should research graduation rates in surrounding communities, saying the board should “look deep, look around and look out” for solutions.

Board Vice President Barbara Hiouas said the board “can’t pass the buck,” adding Selma students are very bright, very sensitive and very defeated once they enter high school.

“This board has failed. We can’t point the finger at anyone,” she said.

Williams said students who are at risk of failing the AHSGE are provided after school and weekend tutorial sessions, but “the problem is getting them there.” Williams said Selma High strongly suggests students take tutorials in the place of an elective course, but the students are lukewarm to the idea.

“It’s not a place (students) want to be seen,” said Acting Superintendent Dr. Verdell Dawson of the tutorial sessions.

Hiouas said there will always be students who aren’t motivated to take advantage of the tutorial sessions, but suggested the number of failures would decrease if Selma High had more highly qualified teachers. Hiouas went on to read a summary of the Alabama State Report Card for the 2006-2007 academic year, stating the current percentage of Selma High teachers who are not highly qualified as mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act is 35.2 percent.

“This means that over one third of the teachers at Selma High School are not considered to be qualified to teach the subjects they are presently teaching,” Hiouas said.

Hiouas continued by quoting percentages from AHSGE results for Selma High’s 11th graders. The summary report stated 59 percent of 11th graders passed the reading portion of the AHSGE and 61 percent passed the math portion.

Hiouas also noted that 45 percent of Selma High’s 10th graders did not meet the state’s writing assessment standards and the school’s average ACT score is 16.90, which earned the school a grade of F on its report card.

Board President Ben Givan said the test results will not improve overnight, but “something must be done to alleviate some of these problems.”

“I can tell you right now some changes are gonna be made,” he said.