Two Perry Co. schools removed from failing list

Published 4:39 pm Saturday, January 27, 2018

By Adam Dodson | The Selma Times-Journal

Two Perry County schools have come off the Alabama State Department of Education’s failing schools list, giving the school system a perfect record with non-failing schools.

Francis Marion School, with 766 students, is no longer considered failing after spending four straight years on the list. Robert C. Hatch High School, population 641 students, came off the failing list after two straight years.

According to Al.com, both Francis Marion and Robert C. Hatch have 100 percent of their student population living in poverty.

Despite this, both schools have been able to get out of the bottom six percent, which is the cutoff for failing schools, equaling 75 schools total.

The schools worked their way off the list thanks to increasing motivation combined with improved instruction. Superintendent of Perry County Schools, John Heard III, was pleased with the news about his non-failing school system, but credits the success to his peers and students.

“Of course, we are proud to be off the list,” said Heard. “We have improved our attendance to 95 percent, which was a big factor. Instruction was focused on and improved, and the results have shown.”

Despite the elation of Perry County’s successful school district, criticism of the ALDOE’s system of judging failing schools remains.

Heard highlighted some of these issues, and is not alone in his distaste.

The testing used by the ALDOE appears to be flawed in the eyes of many public administrators. The ACT Aspire, which has been used as the baseline measurement for what is considered “failing” until 2018, is not considered a sufficient gauge on school performance.

The department of education has used the reading and math scores from this test to include the bottom six percent of scores on the list.

While some method of accurate performance measurement is obligatory, Heard believes this way fell far short of what was needed.

“This way of judging students gives the kids no motivation to perform. If they are not doing it for pride, they have no skin in the game,” Heard said.

“Either they are considered failing or they pass the test and are considered not failing.”

While the ACT Aspire is criticized for the lack of incentive it provides students, other facets of the ALDOE’s failing list are even less approved.

As aforementioned, the failing list only looks at the ACT Aspire scores from reading and math, giving a very small window for potential to gain ground.

In addition, the failing school list has a designated quota of six percent every year. Heard remarks that this is a moot way of viewing “failing” and does not look at Alabama’s performance compared to the nation.

“With this system, there is always going to be a bottom six percent that is considered failing no matter what anyone does,” Heard said. “Looking at only two courses makes it difficult to improve.”

According to Alabama Department of Education communications director Michael Fibley, there is no uniform policy across the country that states must abide by.

This means that what is considered “failing” in Alabama may not be considered “failing” in another state.

The ACT Aspire is no longer the preferred method of looking at failing schools.

The ALDOE will implement a two-year program until a permanent solution is found.

Despite his disagreements with the testing system, Heard is proud of his school district for working their way to better performance.