Alabama students are officially headed back to school– and a big change may soon be headed their way. State education officials have decided to apply for a waiver to the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Instead of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards, they’ve created their own rating system dubbed “Plan 2020.” And officials say this plan will better serve the students and teachers of Alabama.
Teachers at Putnam Middle School in Birmingham are hard at work preparing for the upcoming school year. But unlike years past, they may no longer be focusing on adequate yearly progress. In order to make AYP, a school must achieve its goal for the entire student body. And under No Child Left Behind, students must reach 100 percent proficiency in reading and math by 2014. However, education officials say this is an unrealistic goal.
“It’s not that we’re lowering our standards for students, it’s not that we don’t want all students to perform at the highest possible levels, which really was the goal of No Child Left Behind and the initial work that was called Adequate Yearly Progress,” says Deputy State Superintendent Sherrill Parris. “But we don’t believe that the best thing for teaching or for learning is to only have one measure of how successful a student is and what they’re learning and able to do.”
And several educators share that same belief. Brenda Dial is the new Principal at Putnam Middle School this year. She says she’s leaning more towards the elimination of AYP because it only takes into account one test score.
“I believe that students are more than a test score… one single item,” says Principal Dial. “I think that children bring other opportunities in which they grow, both academically and socially and I think that a lot of time or so much energy is based on test scores that we forget about the whole child.”
In addition, some teachers at Putnam feel that students who don’t make AYP will feel discouraged, even when they’ve made good progress over the year.
“I’m more about the children,” says Teacher Dodi Traylor. “I don’t think it’s fair to them to say you know, you haven’t succeeded, when in fact, you have. You’ve gone up, but you haven’t gone up enough to what they’re measuring it by. You know, they have succeeded. And you’re telling them that they haven’t. And to a child, you don’t do that to a child.”
Although Alabama schools showed slight improvement in their AYP standards this past year, with nearly 75% of schools meeting 100% of their goals, education officials say they’ve created a 4-pronged plan that would rate schools across the state more effectively.
“So we’ll focus on achievement, we’ll focus on growth, we’ll also give them some credit for how well they are closing the gap between subgroups. They will get credit,” says Parris. ‘The fourth and most unique part of Alabama’s new process for assessment and accountability will be to give each school district the opportunity to select its own particular goal. In some areas it may be to increase the number of advanced placement tests passed and courses taken and another district might have a goal related to workforce readiness or career readiness.”
And Plan 2020 is already receiving support. Principal Dial likes the idea of having multiple assessment factors, especially one that focuses on student growth.
“I’d ideally like the idea of a portfolio and one that would look at a child’s growth and strengths as well as their weaknesses across a period of time, say from 1st grade or even from third grade, looking at academically what are they doing in math, what are they doing in reading,” says Dial. “And that way you get a more global picture of a child and what his strengths and weaknesses are.”
The state will submit their proposal to the U.S. Department of Education later this month and are hopeful for a waiver. But whether Alabama is successful in waiving AYP requirements or not, teachers say their teaching methods won’t undergo any major changes.
“I teach the child. You know, I don’t teach the test,” says Traylor. “I would continue to teach the child, continue to look for the data and continue to investigate ways to teach the child. But I don’t think that I would change that much.”