The people's voice of reason

Alabama's School Children...A Lost Generation

School bells are ringing as our children prepare to return to school this month. The little ones are ready with new shoes and personalized book bags. Parents and grandparents believe their children will receive excellent instruction and learning activities.

For others, reality may dim dreams for academic progress. The sad truth is the number of our children who will not likely succeed sufficiently to graduate and move on to college or career goals is unacceptable.

In 2018, Alabama's State Superintendent of Education Eric Mackey recommended, and the Alabama State Board of Education adopted, the federally-funded Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program (ACAP)—the ACAP aligns reading with the Alabama Course of Study and Alabama's Literacy Act. The past two years' student assessment results for third-grade reading were 78% "on grade level" in 2022 and 76% in 2023, a two-point drop. Sounds good, but a closer look is revealing.

The ACAP reading assessment includes four incremental levels for measuring "on grade level." In short, students who score at least one point above the lowest level (Level 1) are eligible for promotion to the fourth grade. Level 2 uses such terms as "reads partially," "answers some questions," and "simplistically recounts." These don't sound grade level-ready for the fourth grade. A provision called the "good cause exceptions" provides Level 1 students with several alternate steps for struggling students' promotion.

The National Assessment of Education Progress's (NAEP), the gold standard of reading assessment, measures all states' fourth and eighth grade reading and math. NAEP's 4th-grade reading assessments are administered to all states every two years. NAEP's 2022 proficiency (on grade level) for Alabama's fourth graders is 28% compared to the national average of 32%. NAEP assessments are more rigorous and accurate than state assessments.

In the October 2022 Education Week, writer Scott Marlon wrote, "NAEP's results carry a clear message for state policymakers: They need to step up in a big way before we lose a generation of students." Alabama's State Superintendent recently told the ASBOE that he'd like to move the state's instructional reading program and assessment closer to NAEP.

According to a US New and World Report article dated May 14, 2019, Alabama's quality of public K-12 education ranked 50 among all states. The message from the State Superintendent and the ASBOE is the same year after year - next year will be better.

Factors that impact Alabama's quality of education

Alabama schools and universities have lowered or removed traditional standards required for college admittance. The demise of rigor and merit decreases the value of diplomas and degrees.

A survey of twelve Alabama universities revealed all but one dropped the 50-year requirement of high-stakes entrance exam scores - ACT or SAT. Instead, they consider less rigorous opt-out test provisions. Ignored is the abundance of scientific research studies that show a direct correlation between scientifically developed entrance exams and academic success.

Some university teacher preparation programs produce fewer teacher-ready graduates. As a result, hundreds of graduates need additional help to pass the PRAXIS exam. ASBOE had the support from several heads of teacher preparation programs to lower the PRAXIS score required to obtain certification by the ALSDE.

There are more questions than answers to remedy the downward spiral of Alabama's education system. One promising development in the 2022 record $8.2 million education budget is allowing for-profit teacher education programs. Despite resistance, Alabama's legislature should consider charter schools. They have proven successful in other states.

The Author. David Nichols holds a Doctor of Education degree in education leadership from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. He has served as a teacher, dropout specialist, reading teacher, school principal, consultant, and a local school board member in two Alabama districts. He is retired and writes on education issues.


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