‘Failing’ schools named

Published 5:51 pm Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Despite early reports that Escambia County High School might be named on the list of schools deemed as “failing” under the new Alabama Accountability Act, the school was not one of the 78 schools on the official list released by the Alabama State Department of Education Tuesday.

State school officials said the list includes those schools that performed in the bottom 6 percent statewide in at least three of the past six years. Scores from the Alabama Reading and Mathematics Test, graduation rates and graduation exam results were used in the calculations.

Escambia County Superintendent Randall Little said he was not totally surprised to see Escambia County schools absent from Tuesday’s list of “underperforming schools.”

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“I’m not really surprised because I have studied the law pretty well and have been to a lot of meetings on it,” Little said. “The state department was obviously going to set the parameters for what was a failing school, but we knew what the data looked like.”

Although ECHS is in its sixth year of “school improvement,” a term used since the inception of No Child Left Behind in 2001, the school has made improvements in each of its six years as part of that designation, Little said.

The administration is glad to be free to focus on improvements rather than “the politics that come with the Alabama Accountability Act,” Little said.

The controversial Accountability Act allows parents in districts with failing schools to get a tax credit for sending their children to private schools, such as Escambia Academy in Canoe. The Alabama Department of Revenue has determined that only parents whose students will be new to private schools will get the tax credit; it does not include those with students already enrolled in private school.

When the act was debated in the Legislature this year, some unofficial lists circulated showed Escambia County High School on the list of failing schools.

“I’m definitely elated,” Little said. “Now we can focus our resources on the problems we need to confront, such as the drop out rate and the graduation rate.”

Both issues, Little said, are problems that must be addressed county-wide and not solely at ECHS.

The Accountability Act’s passage created controversy after Republican lawmakers made heavy revisions to a school flexibility bill to get the tax credit passed.

In the last few days of the session, Gov. Robert Bentley sought to have the tax credit measure delayed by two years, but lawmakers rejected his amendment.

Public school officials across the state — including State Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice — were opposed to the tax credit.
On Tuesday, Bice pointed out that he has no legal authority to take schools off the list — and he said the list includes schools that have already been showing vast improvement.

“There are schools on this list that have shown unbelievable growth,” he said. “They are models.