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Chambers Board of Education denounces state report cards

LaFAYETTE — The Chambers County School District is joining a growing number of Alabama school systems declaring its lack of confidence in the state report card.

After discussion of the issue at Wednesday’s monthly meeting of the Chambers County Board of Education, a resolution was unanimously approved for Chambers to be the next school district to do this.

Superintendent Kelli Hodge said that the local system performed rather well in the most recent testing but that she had some major concerns in regard to alignment with established state standards and a lack of flexibility with absences. There can be no more than 15 for an entire system, and this number could include a student with a debilitating condition or who may be on life support.

“We are not opposed to a report card that uses multiple measures in an equitable way to report successes or lack thereof in achievement, growth, college and career readiness, graduation rates and student success,” Hodge said. “We are opposed to a report card based on one test that has been discontinued for a number of concerns, limited reliability and not being aligned with state standards, to name two.

“We welcome a report card that recognizes that the majority of our high school students are in career technical and college prep classes, which prepare them for college and the workforce,” Hodge added.

Hodge said she wanted to see a report card that recognized the importance of soft skill development and one that recognized students who were working to earn college credit while in high school or high school credit while in middle school.

“We welcome a report card that recognizes the millions of dollars in scholarship money our students receive, one which recognizes students who graduate with credentials, college acceptance or military commitments,” Hodge said. “We want a report card that does not unfairly categorize students who work hard to keep up or catch up after having cancer, losing a home to fire, attend school-sponsored events or just have the bad luck of being sick several times in one year.”

A number of state educators are upset that the test had been the product of five years of improvement, only to have all that work undone in a couple of months. The inclusion of “chronic absenteeism” is particularly controversial, largely because it does not recognize excused absences.

“We don’t base our students’ grades off of one test,” Hodge said. “One day out of a school is .02 percent of a school year.”

Board Member Chris Busby made a motion for the board’s action to include a letter from Hodge outlining Chambers County’s reservations about the report card. That motion was seconded and approved unanimously.

Hodge did have some good news to report on the latest list of failing schools in Alabama. “We don’t have one school on that list,” she said; “I hope (LaFayette High Principal) Don Turner sleeps well tonight.”

That news drew some applause from board members, administrators and citizens in the board room.

Hodge announced that the three days of school that were missed due to last week’s winter storm won’t have to be made up since the governor declared a state of emergency.

The school district has purchased property across from Fairfax Elementary School for use as a parking lot. It’s on the historic Fairfax Mill site and had a purchase price of $40,000.

Hodge reported on a recent trip she and other local school officials made to Mobile County to tour some STEM schools. She said that in terms of facilities, resources and the caliber of students, Chambers County is on equal terms with those schools.

“What’s different is the way they schedule their days. They have labs in the afternoon,” she said. “They have national certification as blue ribbon schools. This is the direction we’d like to go.”

After hearing a presentation from LaFayette High Band Director Michael Floyd, the board backed Hodge’s recommendation and approved a six-day, five-night trip by the LaFayette Band to Destin, Fla. It will take place during spring break, from March 23-28. The band will be doing a number of street performances, which should serve them well at a competition the next week at Alabama State University.

At least 15 students will take part. They will be accompanied by nine chaperones, including high school staff and members of the school’s band boosters organization.

Hodge announced that Aug. 9 will be the first day of school for the 2018-19 academic year.