Though state education officials have yet to publish a full report card, the details of measures that comprise Alabama’s recent school report card grades went live on the state department of education’s website on Jan. 5.
An analysis of those details show a mixed bag of ups and downs in the six categories of measures used from one year to the next, but offers clues as to why grades went up for many schools.
Year over year, of the 1,246 schools that received a letter grade for both 2018 and 2017, the majority of schools earned more achievement and growth points, increased both their high school graduation rates and measures of college and career readiness, but many also saw a rise in students missing 15 or more days of school, known as chronic absenteeism.
The spreadsheet posted on the department’s website doesn’t contain both years’ grades, but AL.com pulled those together for readers to compare and see which schools improved their performance in which areas from one year to the next. Seventy-three schools were given grades this year for the first time and are not included in the breakdown.
First, a quick look at how the measures are calculated. [Click here for the full technical manual.]
Schools earn points in up to six categories:
- Academic achievement – the 2017-18 school year test results from the Scantron, ACT, and Alabama Alternate Assessment (for students with significant disabilities),
- Academic growth – 2017-18 school year test results from the Scantron (change from beginning to end of school year), ACT (change from last year’s 10th grade PLAN to this year’s 11th grade ACT),
- Graduation rate – 2016-17 school year four-year high school graduation rate,
- College and career readiness (CCR) rate – students who entered ninth grade during the 2013-14 school year and who earned one of the CCR indicators before the end of the 2016-17 school year,
- Chronic absenteeism – the percentage of all students who missed 15 days or more of school, both excused and unexcused absences,
- Progress in English language proficiency (ELP) – measure of the percentage of students learning the English language who met their growth target on the ACCESS 2.0 test. This is the first year this measure has been included.
Annual tests are given in math in grades 3 through 8 (Scantron) and in grade 11 (ACT). Reading is tested in grades 3 through 8 (Scantron), while English is tested in grade 11 (ACT). Science is tested in grades 5 and 7 (Scantron) and in grade 11 (ACT). Results from the 2018 round of testing showed better reading scores, but mostly flat math scores.
The Alabama Alternate Assessment is given to students with significant disabilities for tested grades.
Students who move in and out of schools and districts, known as student “churn,” often face academic struggles and excluding students who have been enrolled for less than that amount of time from the accountability measure is seen as a fairer method of the impact the current school has had. Students were only counted if they were considered “full academic year” students, meaning they were enrolled in a school or district for 85 percent of the school year and is still enrolled in the final month of school.
Important points to remember about report cards and indicators
Report cards will be standard fare for at least the next few years, so it’s important to understand what the measures show. Each measure is represented by a number from zero to 100. That score does not always represent a percentage of students meeting the measure.
For example, the academic achievement measure is weighted and so does not represent a percentage.
Academic growth is also weighted, and the weights of both measures differ from each other. [Confused yet? Don’t worry, you won’t be tested.]
When those weights are applied to achievement and growth, students that are high-performers on tests and/or show high levels of growth earn a school extra points, while those who do not perform well on tests or show low levels of growth can negatively impact a school’s point score.
Therefore, if a school earns 85 points in the academic growth category, it is not correct to say 85 percent of students showed growth on the test. That number just means the school earned 85 points. The unweighted growth and achievement numbers are not provided by the state.
In the chronic absenteeism measure, a lower number is better. The number shown on the report card is the actual percentage of students who miss 15 or more days of school. That rate includes all students in the school, not just those that are tested. So if the number is 7.9, then it is accurate to say 7.9 percent of students at the school were chronically absent.
The number of points a school earns in the chronic absenteeism category equals 100 minus the number shown. Using that same example, a school with a 7.9 percent chronic absenteeism rate would earn 92.1 points.
Both the graduation rate and the CCR rate also reflect percentages, so if the number is 97 for graduation rate, it means that 97 percent of students graduated from high school in four years. Remember, too, that both of those rates also reflect the class of 2017’s accomplishments, not the class of 2018.
After each of the indicators is calculated individually, a second round of weighting is applied. For schools without a 12th grade, academic achievement and growth each account for 40 percent of the school’s grade. Chronic absenteeism accounts for 15 percent of the grade, and the rate of progress of student learning the English language accounts for 5 percent. However, if a school doesn’t have 20 or more students classified as English learners, then growth accounts for 45 percent of the total point value.
As a result, in 810 schools in Alabama where no measure of English learner progress was calculated, academic growth accounted for 45 percent of the grade.
If a school does not have an academic growth measure, then academic achievement grows to 80 percent of the school’s grade. That was not the case for any schools in Alabama in 2018.
For the 361 Alabama schools with a 12th grade, the weights look like this:
- Academic achievement – 20 percent,
- Academic growth – 25 percent,
- Chronic absenteeism – 10 percent
- College and career readiness – 10 percent
- Graduation rate – 30 percent,
- ELP progress – 5 percent
- College and career readiness – 10 percent
If any other measures are unavailable, there are steps to be followed to reconfigure the formula.
AL.com previously reported that more schools earned A’s and B’s on the 2018 report card, and while reasons differ a bit from school to school, higher point scores in achievement and growth are the likely reason for the higher grades.
In schools where achievement scores went up, they increased by an average of 9.4 points. In schools where achievement points went down, they went down by an average of 3.2 points.
Also, nearly five times as many schools earned more points in achievement than last year as those that earned fewer points. Across the state, the range was from a loss of 19 points to a gain of 37 points.
Scores in the 719 schools where achievement growth points went up saw an average increase of 10.7 points, but in the 449 schools where scores for growth went down, they dropped by an average of 7.7 points.
Check out your school’s detailed grades
Report card proponents agree that parents need to know what’s in the report card in order for school improvement to occur. So AL.com has provided a way for you to not only look at this year’s indicators’ scores but also a way to compare them to last year. These interactives are difficult to view on a mobile phone and are better viewed on a tablet, laptop or desktop. We’ve also provided links to larger versions made specifically for desktop monitors to allow you to dig in.
First up is a way to view scores for 2018 one school system at a time. That allows for a comparison among schools in large school systems. Click the top of a column to sort high to low, low to high, or alphabetical order. The color of the bar indicates the overall letter grade the school received. The width of the bar indicates the percentage of students in poverty at the school. The wider the bar, the higher the poverty level. In the mobile version, only numbers are shown, and the poverty indicator isn’t visible.
Next up is a way to look at both the 2018 and the 2017 scores for all of the schools within a school system. There is a way to narrow the view to a small number of schools within a system as well. Click the top of a column to sort.
Finally, click this link to view all of the 2018 indicators for all schools in Alabama, or you can narrow down by system. It’s just too much information to put into a smaller interactive.
No word yet on when the required federal information will be online, but AL.com will let you know when it is.
So, what changed at the school level?
Looking at all of the schools in the state, some interesting trends emerged.
Academic achievement (change in points earned from 2016-17 to 2017-18):
- 219 schools had lower achievement point scores than the previous year, at an average of 3.2 points,
- 19 schools had the same number of points (all 100s)
- 1008 schools had higher points in achievement, at an average of 9.4 points, and
- Overall, of the 1,246 schools that had scores in both years, scores went up by an average of 7.1 points
Academic growth (change in points earned from 2016-17 to 2017-18):
- 449 schools had lower growth point scores than the previous year, dropping by an average of 7.7 points,
- 56 schools had zero change from in growth points, all but one had 100′s both years, and
- 719 schools earned more points in growth than the previous year, averaging an increase of 10.7 points, and
- Overall, of the 1,224 schools that had scores for growth in both years, scores went up by an average of 3.4 points.
Chronic absenteeism (change in points earned from 2016-17 to 2017-18):
- 486 schools lowered their chronic absenteeism rate, resulting in an increase in points by an average of 3.4 points,
- 6 schools had exactly the same chronic absenteeism rate as in 2016-17,
- 754 schools saw an increase in their chronic absenteeism rate, resulting in a decrease in points by an average of 3.4 points, and
- Overall, of the 1,246 schools that had scores in both years, scores went up by an average of 0.7 points.
CCR rate (change in points earned from 2015-16 to 2016-17):
- 73 schools had a lower CCR rate than in the previous year,
- One school had exactly the same rate (100)
- 246 schools increased their rate
- 42 schools first posted a CCR rate in 2016-17, and
- Overall, of the 320 schools that had CCR rates in both years, points went up by an average of 5.4 points.
Graduation rate (change in points earned from 2015-16 to 2016-17):
- 74 schools posted lower graduation rates than in the previous year,
- 8 schools posted exactly the same rate (3 were 100s),
- 238 schools posted a higher graduation rate than in previous year, and
- Overall, of the 320 schools posting graduation rates in both years, points went up by an average of 2.8 points.
English language proficiency (ELP) progress (new for 2018, reflects growth targets for 2017-18 school year):
- 793 schools were given scores, but those scores were not used in the final calculation, meaning there were not 20 students in that category in the entire school,
- 154 schools were given scores weighted at 5 percent of the total score.