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Schools fare well in new state report card

By By Paul Keane
Publisher
A new, more-detailed report card on public schools in the state places Escambia County schools in a favorable light when compared to surrounding school districts.
On Thursday, the Alabama Department of Education released the 2001-2002 school report cards. Complete scores for all the schools is available at www.alsde.edu under "reports" or "school info." The reports cards detail everything from teacher qualifications to disciplinary actions to testing data and student spending.
Escambia County stacked up well against surrounding school districts in a number of categories. In career/technical training, the district received an "A," with most other school districts in South Alabama receiving similar scores.
In Stanford Achievement Testing, Escambia County earned a "B-minus," which also was similar to surrounding districts. In the graduation exam category, local schools earned a D, the lowest grade among testing factors for the school. It was also one of the few categories where Escambia County trailed other school districts.
The dropout rate in the county earned a grade of "C," which was ahead of Mobile County's "C-minus," "F" grades for Conecuh County, Covington County and Choctaw County but behind the "B-minus" grade given to Brewton City Schools.
In the ACT test, Escambia earned a "C-minus," ahead of about half the school districts in South Alabama. In grade 5 writing assessment, local schools earned a "D-plus," while in grade 7 writing assessment the grade jumped up to a "C-plus."
In the Alabama Alternate Assessment category, Escambia earned an "A," which was equal to or better than the other districts in the region.
A few glaring issues beyond the control of the district dealt with funding and taxes for schools. In state funding, Escambia County received a "B-minus," ahead of all but one other district in the area, that being Wilcox County. In per pupil spending compated to the Southeast, Escambia earned a "C," which was comparable to many of the surrounding districts. In taxes, Escambia earned a "C-minus," while most of the surrounding districts earned grades of "F."
Superintendent of Schools Melvin "Buck" Powell said the scores show that the district is improving and heading in the right direction.
"The state did a very good job of grading all the districts," he said. "This report card covered a wide number of topics that affect schools.
"And I think we did do well this time around. Everything from attendance to grades showed that we are making some improvements. Our teachers and administrators have done a great job in helping us improve."
Powell also pointed out that students and parents have to receive a good share of the credit for the improvements.
"Our children are working harder, and that is a credit to both them and their parents," Powell said. "The parents have become more involved in the education of their children, and that is a very good thing to have happen. We need more of that parental involvement."
Powell said the improvements over the last reporting period will hopefully spur students on to keep moving in a positive direction.
"We'll graduate one group and get a new group of students in," he said. "It's a lot like a football team, in that this year's team wants to do better and accomplish more than previous teams did. We hope that next group of students wants to beat this one."
And Powell pointed out there is still plenty of room for improvement.
"Things still need to be better," he said. "If a child brings home a C-minus, most parents aren't going to be very happy.
"I'm not happy with a C-minus, and I don't expect our teachers, administrators or students to be happy with it. I want it to become a B, and getting the 10 mill ad valorem tax will help us get to a B."
Powell said the high grade in per-pupil spending on a local level is deceiving right now considering the shaky ground that funding is on right now.
"That grade includes the oil severance tax that we have been receiving for so long," Powell said. "That tax has dwindled greatly and it is eventually going to go away."
(In Wednesday's issue: A closer look at how local schools fared on their report cards.)