Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey asked a question last week that’s been on the mind of many educators and lawmakers since the Alabama Accountability Act was passed in 2013.
“I know that the law says you have to identify the bottom 6% (of schools). Can we call them something besides failing?”
This year, there are 76 schools in 27 school districts on the “failing” school list. Fortunately, no schools in Lauderdale or Colbert counties were on the list. So it might be difficult for Shoals residents to sink their teeth into this debate.
But imagine if one or more of our schools were listed as “failing” schools? The term leaves the impression the schools in question are terrible public institutions of learning. As a parent or a community leader, how would that make you feel?
That’s the essence of the argument against using the “failing” label to describe schools whose major shortcoming is the inability to meet certain benchmarks for student progress based on state and national standardized tests.
Adding insult to injury, the accountability act also gives students in these “failing” schools the option to transfer to a school in the same district that’s not on the “failing” list, or transfer to a neighboring district, enroll in a private school or be homeschooled.
Worst of all, the “failing” schools get no additional state funds or resources to help them improve their testing deficiencies.
By mere association, the students, administrators, teachers and support staffs of these schools are painted with the broad brush of failure with little regard for what’s actually taking place in the classrooms. That stigma can result in an exodus of personnel, and lead to recruitment problems.
We think Ivey is right. The time has come to stop “failing” schools. But changing the term used to designate schools that aren’t performing as well on tests as the state would like isn’t the only thing that needs to be changed.
Sally Smith, executive director of the Alabama Association of School Boards, said the struggling schools need more than a different designation. They need additional resources to battle the negative perceptions that 6 years of “failing” status have heaped upon them.
Without that sort of commitment, it really doesn’t matter what label you use. And that’s the true failure of the process.