A legislative quirk has left 14 schools that have met the conditions set out in the new Alabama Accountability Act on the state's failing list with no means to get off it. This predicament can lead to the schools losing funding, undergoing changes of leadership and even closing, even though they've met all the testing benchmarks required by the state's Republican lawmakers.
The problem arose after the legislature created two definitions of "failing" schools. Lawmakers were seeking to identify the schools that should lose their funding due to chronic underperformance. The method they settled on to identify those schools was ranking them according to math and reading scores for the past 6 years, and then looking for those that ended up towards the bottom of the list more than once.
However, in addition to this approach, they also allowed a school to be listed as failing if it appeared as a chronic underperformer on the federal School Improvement Grant application. The last time Alabama applied for such grant was in 2011.
According to Challen Stephens of AL.com, there are no current plans to apply for another such grant, which means the 14 schools that made the list on the previous application have no way to ditch their designation. Schools that ended up with a failing tag due to low test scores can improve if their students begin to perform better on reading and math exams, but SIG schools are stuck on the list indefinitely.
Because the "failing" label isn't based on test data, the schools can't test their way off the state list.
"I really don't know how long we will be on that list," said Sanders at Midfield, saying she had been attempting to explain the situation to parents and teachers, but had also been asking questions herself.
Dr. Melinda Maddox, Alabama assistant superintendent, said she can't predict when there will be a new round of improvement grants for Alabama to update that portion of the "failing" list.
This spring the state education department published rules that explicitly said that the list will not be revised until such data is once again required by the US Department of Education for a SIG grant.
The SIG failing list used to also include four centers that catered exclusively to special education students. However, in the Alabama Accountability Act, lawmakers chose to exclude these schools from statewide rankings.
For the sake of clarity, here's how the state's "failing" list breaks down.
Alabama has 78 "failing" schools. Four are special needs centers. That leaves 74 "failing" neighborhood schools.
Of those 74, all but two missed a testing goal for reading and math. Hayes and Midfield landed on the list strictly because they qualified for a federal School Improvement Grant in 2011.