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How A Failing Schools Gets A “D”


By Shannon Hunter

The recently published School Report Cards and the Failing Schools List have made some people wonder how a school like LaFayette High School gets a “D” on its Report Card, but is listed as “Failing”. The simple answer is that a “Failing” school is defined by the AAA (Alabama Accountability Act) as a school that falls in the bottom 6% of Alabama public schools, based only on the schools by student proficiency in Reading and Math, whereas the Report Card includes many factors in a complicated calculation.

The Failing Schools list is sometimes attacked by pointing out that, no matter if all the schools achieved high proficiency, there would still be a bottom 6% to be classed as failing. We can only wish for that to be the problem, because the truth is that the average proficiency for Alabama schools is below the national average.

So what does the grade on the Report Card mean? Let’s look at LaFayette High School and see. There are five components to the Report Card grade for a high school: Academic Achievement in Reading and Math; “Academic Growth”; Graduation Rate; College and Career Readiness, and Chronic Absenteeism.

Academic Achievement is measured by standardized tests, “Academic Growth” is discussed below and Graduation Rate is basically the percent of students that graduate in four years. The College and Career Readiness Indicators are: Benchmark on any ACT Subtest, Qualifying Score on AP or IB Exam, Military Enlistment, Approved Transcript College or Postsecondary Credit While in High School, Silver Level or Higher on the ACT WorkKeys or Approved Industry Credentials. Chronic absenteeism is the percent of students absent more than 15% of the time. Here is the Report Card Calculation (see


Notice that the Report Card Score, Academic Achievement and Academic Growth are not percents. The maximum for Academic Achievement is 125 points, for Academic Growth, 150 points, so the maximum grade on the Report Card would be 120, and LHS scored only 66, which was called a “D” but is only 55% of the maximum – which sounds like an “F” to me.!

It’s also important to note that Academic Achievement based on standardized tests counts for only 20% of the grade, while Graduation Rate and “Academic Growth” each contribute 30%. In other words, what the students have learned is only one fifth of the Report Card score. Might it also be that students graduate without basic Reading and Math skills so that the Graduation Rate stays up for the purpose of raising the Report Card grade? And what is this “Academic Growth”, anyway?

To quote the Alabama State Department of Education Website: www.alsde.edu/dept/erc/Pages/federalbusinessrules-all.aspx?navtext=Business Rules

“An Accountability System Indicator determined based on individual students who demonstrate improvement in reading/English and/or math with a growth record within the growth categories. The Academic Growth Indicator Score is based on the weighted growth categories outlined below. Category 4 is the highest improvement.

Category 1 0
Category 2 0.75
Category 3 1.25
Category 4 1.50”

It is very difficult to find details about the Categories, and since individual records are used, the raw data are not available. The Alabama plan to satisfy ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) requirements is available at: www.alsde.edu/dept/essa/State%20Plan/Alabama%20ESSA%2011-15-2019.pdf, and sample calculations are available at .www.lafayetteforcitizens.org/chambers-county-schools.html

What I can say is that Academic Growth always seems too high: An extreme example is Lanett High School which has an Academic Growth score of 100 (sounds perfect, but is not anywhere near the maximum of 150!), but an Academic Achievement score of only 38.67. Wouldn’t you expect high Academic Growth to produce high Academic Achievement? Of course, 30% of the Education Report Card grade is this “Academic Growth”, while Academic Achievement is only 20%!