Of six local schools where special education students’ scores on reading and math tests were counted, five were cited as not meeting proficiency standards, according to information released Monday by the Alabama State Department of Education.
Two other local schools were cited for having a graduation rate below the expected goal: Saks High at 76 percent and Anniston High at 71 percent. Anniston High also had problems with students’ scores on reading tests, including for the student body measured as a whole, for black students and for students from families with lower incomes.
The schools cited for special education students’ test scores are Alexandria Elementary, Alexandria High, Oxford Middle, Weaver Elementary and White Plains Middle.
Those local institutions join 27 percent of Alabama’s schools in failing to meet yearly progress goals in the 2010-2011 school year. The state as a whole failed to make annual yearly progress goals in special education – the same area that tripped up many Calhoun County schools.
A press release from the Alabama Department of Education tried to put a positive face on the numbers, saying that the Alabama results had exceeded the predictions of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
Calhoun County administrators say part of the problem is No Child Left Behind, which requires that students with and without special needs perform at the same level. Calhoun County Superintendent Joe Dyar said that’s not what special education is designed to do.
“The purpose of special education is to help each child reach his or her level,” he said. “It’s not a level playing field.”
The problem, local educators say, is that the benchmark keeps inching up for all students, and the benchmark has outpaced special education students’ abilities. As a result, special education students’ scores have impacted the system’s status.
“It’s a problem we knew we were going to reach,” said Janice Cain, the special education coordinator for Calhoun County. “As the measure continues to jump up … we couldn’t keep up.”
This year marks the second year in a row Calhoun County Schools have failed to make the yearly progress benchmark as a system, pushing it into “school improvement” status for the first year.
“There is going to have to be some revisions to this growth model, in regards to special education in No Child Left Behind,” Dyar said.
No Child Left Behind has also had its strong points, Cain said.
"There have been some good things in the law in that it has encouraged us, as educators, to increase our expectations,” she said.
Regardless of the reasons why, Dyar said, the system has to do a better job of meeting the needs of its special education students. The system’s special education students fall behind in the areas of reading comprehension and math problem-solving procedures.
“We’re seeing kids progress somewhat in those areas, but they’re not making those baselines,” Dyar said.
To address that, he said the system is adding teachers to special education classrooms, offering more professional development for its teachers and emphasizing teaching using a collaborative method. That approach encourages special education teachers to work with teachers in traditional classrooms to educate special education students.
The Alabama Department of Education also said that Calhoun County Schools, the county’s largest school district, failed to make adequate yearly progress toward proficiency goals for special education students across all grades.
No Child Left Behind, which became law in 2002, requires schools nationwide to test students annually in reading and math, with the goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014. Scores are tracked by school and grade, and for subgroups of students based on demographic data. In Alabama, scores for any such subgroup of 40 or more students are tracked, and states, school districts and schools are held accountable for the scores. Schools that continually fail to make progress can be required to provide extra services to students, or to give families the option of transferring to another school in the same district, among other penalties.
The scores used in the reports released Monday come primarily from tests administered to students in the spring of 2011.
Four other high schools in Calhoun County also missed the mark on their graduation rates, but were not cited for it because their scores had improved from last year or were high enough in the two previous years to get a three-year average above the requirement.
Contact staff writer Laura Johnson at 256-235-3544.
Alabama State Department of Education AYP for 2010-2011
For clarification on these documents, please refer to the 2011 Interpretive Guide of the Alabama Accountability System and the accompanying frequently asked questions list.