Failing school label is unfair

Published 10:02 am Friday, November 15, 2019

Two local schools were placed on the updated “failing” school list for Alabama that was released this past week.

J.P. Powell Middle School and LaFayette High School were both on the list, which is made up of the bottom 6 percent of schools in the state based on proficiency in reading and math tests. The list, which is required based on the Alabama Accountability Act, is a woeful attempt to show where students are coming up short when compared to state average.

The act requires that students in “failing” schools be notified and given four choices for the next school year — stay at their current school, transfer to a non-failing school within the district, transfer to a nearby public school district or go to a private school or home school. There’s a tax credit available for students who leave failing schools as well, although reporting by other newspapers around the state have shown shortcomings of the act.

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We won’t even get into that side of it today. We’ve got enough thoughts on the absurdity of the “failing” schools list as it is.

To be clear, schools that are labeled “failing” didn’t necessarily score an “F” on the state report card. In fact, neither J.P. Powell Middle School or LaFayette High scored that low. J.P. Powell scored a 68 and LaFayette High scored a 66, the lowest two scores in the district.

Confused yet?

To be clear, neither of those “D” scores are acceptable, and both need to be improved. There’s no doubt about it. However, based on the law, if every school in the state scored in the 90 to 100 range — an A average — there would still be a “failing” school list because the bottom 6 percent of schools are required to be on it.

We’d also love to know why the number is 6 percent. Why not 1 percent? 3 percent? 30 percent?

Wouldn’t it make more sense to judge “failing” schools based on the school report cards, which are based on a number of factors, instead of going by one standardized test? According to various reports by other media outlets, some schools on the “failing” list scored as high as a “B” on their report card. That’s a little confusing for parents, and frankly anyone, to comprehend.

The list, at least as far as we can tell, doesn’t give any actual data either. There’s plenty of information on each school from the report card, but that doesn’t factor in to the failing school list. The state’s failing school list is literally just that — a list of the 75 schools.

We’re also not sure how it helps teachers, administrators or students to be labeled a “failing” school by the state. We’re sure that really helps school and community pride.

Obviously, there needs to be a way to show which schools are performing well and which aren’t. Graduation rates, achievement scores, college and career readiness calculations, and other factors give us those results, but each statistic is only a number and don’t tell the whole picture.

That’s the reason the report card exists, to take a deep look at how each school is performing.

A “failing” school label is unfair to any school in the state when it’s based on one test on one day. It also doesn’t show much appreciation for the teachers and administrators who work hard every day to overcome those types of labels, considering many of these schools are in poverty-stricken areas of our state.

Lawmakers and the state education leaders should take a long, hard look at changing or entirely eliminating the failing school list. We’re not sure what it accomplishes or why it’s calculated the way it is when better, more comprehensive data is always gathered and readily available.