Alabama Class of 2017 High School Graduation, College and Career, ACT and WorkKeys Results

In this graduation season, we take a look back at some encouraging educational statistics for last year’s graduating class, the Class of 2017.

For the Class of 2017, the final tally for the state high school graduation rate and college and career readiness rate both improved over the Class of 2016’s rates.

However, there is still a troubling gap between the percentage of high school seniors graduating and the percentage of those seniors graduating college and career ready, as measured by the state.

For the seniors in the Class of 2017, 89 percent graduated with a diploma, but only 71 percent of seniors earned the college and career ready designation.

The statewide results for the ACT and WorkKeys assessments also both showed improvement for the Class of 2017.

The ACT is the widely used assessment test designed to measure college readiness. The test is given to all 11th graders in Alabama’s public schools. WorkKeys is a separate test, also developed by the ACT organization, designed to measure workforce readiness. The test, given to all 12-grade students annually, measures students’ skills on the math and reading skills as they might be applied in the workplace.

The state uses both as measures of the college and career readiness of graduates. High school seniors are considered college and career ready if they meet one of the following criteria.

  1. Score college ready in at least one subject on the ACT
  2. Score at the silver level on ACT’s WorkKeys Assessment
  3. Earn a passing score on an Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate Exam (college-level courses delivered in high schools)
  4. Successfully earn a career technical credential
  5. Earn dual enrollment credit at a college or university
  6. Successfully enlist in the military

Graduation and College and Career Readiness Percentages

The interactive chart below allows users to explore the graduation and college and career readiness percentages for high school seniors in 2017 at the state level and by school system, and high school. When comparing results on individual measures, bear in mind that some schools and systems vary on which route to college and career readiness they emphasize. Some may invest heavily in providing AP classes or preparation for the ACT while others concentrate on dual enrollment or career technical education.

 

As Alabama’s graduation rate has soared, so has the concern that some students who are receiving high school diplomas haven’t been adequately prepared for the next step after high school.

In March, then-State Superintendent Ed Richardson pointed out the disparity between Alabama’s high school graduation rate (87 percent in 2016) with the Class of 2016’s College and Career Readiness rate (66 percent). Richardson called the 21-percentage point gap between the graduation rate and the career readiness rate “unacceptable.”

“Some schools have a gap approaching 60 percentage points,” Richardson noted. “In fact, a few high schools only have one in four graduates who accomplish one of the six College- and Career-Ready Standards.”

The final tallies for the Class of 2017 showed that the gap between high school graduation and college and career readiness narrowed to 18 percentage points.

Richardson declared the gap between graduation and college and career readiness one of the “most serious issues facing our schools.”

“Failure to address this issue immediately,” Richardson said, “will only result in more high school graduates and their families being led to believe they are ready for the next step in their lives when they are not—harm public education and depress our state’s economic growth.”

ACT

For those students who plan to continue at a four-year college, the ACT is designed to measure their readiness for college.

In 2017, 18 percent of high school seniors met or exceeded the benchmark score in all four subjects tested, English, Reading (Social Studies), Math, and Science. That’s up from 17 percent in 2015, according to the most recent data provided by the Alabama State Department of Education.

Success rates vary by subject: 53 percent of high school seniors scored college-ready in English, 37 percent in reading; 28 percent in science; 24 percent in math. The percentage of students scoring above the college-ready benchmark for each subject has increased in all subjects, except for English. In English, 53.1 percent of students met the college-ready benchmark in 2015 compared to 52.6 percent in 2017.

ACT scores are most commonly reported as scale scores, a number on a 36-point scale (a 36 in a perfect score)

The average scale score on the ACT for Alabama was 19.2 in 2017, up from 19 in 2015. While Alabama trails the national average scale score of 21, it is important to keep in mind that Alabama is one of 18 states in which 100 percent of public school students take the test. The state pays for one administration of the test for students in their junior year.  In most other states, only those applying for college take the test. Students can take the test multiple times. Their best score is the one counted in the statistics.

Among the 18 states where 100 percent of students take the test, Alabama’s composite score ranks behind 13 states and is tied with North Carolina. Alabama’s average composite score ranks ahead of South Carolina, Mississippi, and Nevada.

 

 

Over the past three years, the average composite score has increased for every subgroup of students, except for nonpoverty students. The average composite for nonpoverty students was 20.8 in 2015 and 20.7 in 2017.

WorkKeys

On the WorkKeys assessment, 64 percent of graduates in 2017 earned a Silver certification or higher, the level needed to be considered college or career ready by the state. That’s up from 61 percent in 2016.

ACT has identified the foundational skills needed to be successful in thousands of different occupations.  ACT predicts that students who score at the Silver level have the skills needed for 67 percent of the occupations in their database. Those scoring at the Gold level have the foundational skills needed for 93 percent of jobs profiled. A platinum level certification indicates that a candidate has the skills needed in 99 percent of jobs ACT has profiled.

 


The Priorities of Alabama Voters

In 2018, Alabamians will elect a governor and five other statewide executive branch officers, 140 legislators, and scores of local officials. Those elected will lead Alabama for the next four years. These leaders should be responsive to the concerns of those they represent but also willing to help citizens understand critical, but perhaps less obvious, public policy issues. Such leadership requires understanding what issues most concern voters and what issues voters may not fully appreciate.

In this election year, PARCA surveyed Alabama voters to determine their thoughts about the general direction of the state and the issues that most concern them. We found broad agreement on the critical issues facing the state. Based on voter response, PARCA identified and ranked voters’ top 10 critical issues. Alabama Priorities explores this issue.

The Priorities

Alabama voters are eager to see improvement in K – 12 education, with 70% indicating they are very concerned about the state’s education system. Voters are worried about healthcare , particularly access and cost. With the recent resignations of a Governor, a Speaker of the House, and a state Supreme Court Justice, it should come as no surprise that voters are concerned about corruption and ethics. For many voters, mental health and substance abuse are not just theoretical problems—56% of Alabamians indicate they are very concerned about the issue. The poor and homeless have not been forgotten.

These issues, along with jobs and the economy, crime and public safety, job training and work force development, the state’s image, and tax reform comprise the top 10 list of Alabama’s priorities.

Perhaps this list should not come as a surprise. Previous polling by PARCA and other organizations have found similar results.

What is perhaps more surprising, however, is the extent to which these are shared priorities. We found few significant differences between Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, blacks and whites, or other groups. While differences exist, Alabama voters are not polarized.

Alabama Priorities

1. K-12 Education
2. Healthcare
3. Government Corruption and Ethics
4. Mental Health and Substance Abuse
5. Poverty and Homelessness
6. Jobs and the Economy
7. Crime and Public Safety
8. Job Training and Workforce Development
9. Improving the State's Image
10. Tax Reform

Experts and Voters: Differing Priorities

At the same time, while the data suggests broad agreement among voters, there is an area where significant gaps exist. PARCA surveyed business, civic, and nonprofit leaders, journalists, and academics. The differences between the priorities of these experts and voters were noticeable.

Four top 10 issues for voters fell outside the top 10 for experts:

  • Mental health and substance abuse
  • Poverty and homelessness
  • Job training and workforce development
  • Improving the state’s image

Conversely, experts identified four issues that did not register high on voters’ list of concerns:

  • Infrastructure and transportation
  • Prison and sentencing reform
  • Funding state government
  • Civil rights

Possible explanations as to why some issues are more important to voters and others more important to experts are offered in the “Differences Between Experts and Voters” section of the report. three implications are suggested.

Implications

The data suggest four implications.

  1. Voters are not polarized along traditional political, ideological, racial or generational lines.
  2. There is a significant gap between the priorities of experts and the priorities of voters.
  3. Policymakers have a two-fold opportunity to inform and educate voters on critical and systemic challenges facing the state.
  4. Policymakers have an opportunity to respond to immediate, often highly personal issues that concern voters.

This research suggests that elected officials and candidates have an opportunity to show leadership and to build broad coalitions to address Alabama’s most pressing challenges.

Read the full report here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Thank God For Mississippi: They’re Leading the Way on Educational Progress

At least in terms of education, it’s time to retire the old Alabama catchphrase, “Thank God for Mississippi.”

It’s an easy response when the latest list comes out that finds Alabama and Mississippi at the bottom of the rankings.

Frequently, Alabama bests Mississippi, and, in so doing, stays out of last place.

However, a review of the latest results on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) shows Mississippi students now outscore Alabama students on almost every measure.

In 4th and 8th grade math, Mississippi continued its multi-year rise in performance. Comparing all students in each state, Mississippi has a higher average scale score at both grade levels and higher percentages of students scoring proficient.

In reading, Alabama still outscores Mississippi when all students’ scores are averaged together, though the gap between the two states continues to close.

But looking deeper in the data, in every major subgroup measured, Mississippi students are outscoring Alabama students. When comparing Alabama’s white students to Mississippi whites, Alabama black students to Mississippi black students, Alabama Hispanic students to Mississippi Hispanics, Alabama poverty and nonpoverty students with their counterparts in Mississippi, on all those measures, Mississippi comes out on top.

Comparing the different subgroups with their peers in other states provides some assurance for Alabama. Both Alabama and Mississippi tend to show up poorly on “all students” rankings on standardized tests. That is due in part to the fact that historically disadvantaged groups — students from low-income households, blacks, and Hispanics — tend to score lower on standardized tests than whites and students from nonpoverty households. Alabama and Mississippi both have higher percentages of students in poverty and higher minority percentages than most states.

Breaking out the scores by subgroup allows a more nuanced comparison. When comparing subgroups, Alabama’s performance is better in some instances than the overall ranking might suggest. For instance, in 4th-grade math, Alabama’s “all students” rank is fourth from the bottom among U.S. states. However, when directly comparing black students, Alabama black 4th graders outscore black students in 14 other states.  A deeper examination of subgroups brings to light some important points.

  1. It is certainly not the case that Alabama’s lackluster performance on the NAEP can be blamed on black students or poor students. On some measures, blacks and poverty students in Alabama earn a higher national ranking in their respective categories than whites and nonpoverty students.  It is weak performance across all subgroups — black and white, poverty and nonpoverty — that weighs on Alabama’s competitive position.
  2. There is one subgroup that is especially in need of increased attention from Alabama educators: Hispanics. In both grades and both subjects, the average scale score for Alabama Hispanics was lower than the average scale score for Hispanics in any other state.

In the rank table below, you can explore the average scale score of each Alabama subgroup ranking nationally. Bear in mind that the rank for white students, poverty and nonpoverty students includes all 50 states. For Hispanics, there are 47 states in the comparison group, because in three states there weren’t enough Hispanic students tested to generate a statistically valid sample. For black students, the rank is among 40 states on all measures except 4th-grade math. In 4th-grade math, the comparison group includes 42 states.

Looking more broadly,

  1. Alabama has focused attention on instruction in the early grades and evidence from NAEP shows that has provided benefits. In 2011, Alabama tied the national average in 4th-grade reading. Despite some erosion since then, 4th-grade reading remains stronger than other subjects. In math, Alabama 4th graders improved from No. 50 in 2015 to No. 48 in 2017. Obviously, sustained focus on the early grades remains important.
  2. However, Alabama’s NAEP results in 8th grade remain consistently poor in both reading and math. Middle grades instruction also deserved concerted focus and investment.
  3. Alabama should study Mississippi’s approach to see if that state’s progress can provide lessons. While more in-depth analysis is needed, Mississippi education officials credit that state’s progress to continuity of leadership and a sustained, systematic approach to supporting its school districts. The current superintendent, Carey M. Wright, took office in 2013, recruited from the District of Columbia where she was Chief Academic Officer. Mississippi adopted new higher academic standards and set up a system of professional development to help Mississippi teachers teach to the new standards. Mississippi also implemented a literacy initiative similar to the Alabama Reading Initiative but targeted the initiative primarily at high need schools. On the surface, Mississippi’s efforts mirror Alabama’s, a deeper look might reveal ways in which Alabama’s approach can be adjusted in order to produce similar results.

ACT Aspire: 2017 Results and a Final Look Back

The ACT Aspire, a suite of standardized tests given statewide to students in grades 3-8 and 10, has been the State of Alabama’s primary tool for measuring the academic progress of Alabama public schools since the 2013-2014 school year.

Over the course of four administrations of the Aspire, students showed progress on most measures. By 2017, the percentage of children scoring proficient on the Aspire had improved in most grades and subjects, in some cases significantly. (To explore the data on your own, including views that allow for interactive comparisons between selected schools and systems, follow this link. To view the visualization in full screen, click the button on the bottom right corner).

The gains in math were the strongest. All grades saw steady improvements, except for 10th grade where the percentage proficient was basically flat. The implementation of Aspire roughly coincided with the adoption of new state standards in mathematics, which were intended to increase students’ depth of understanding of mathematical concepts. Though the Aspire has now been replaced by a different standardized testing system developed by Scantron, math proficiency levels will continue to be of crucial interest. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the national benchmark testing system, Alabama students have been at or near the bottom of the country. On the 2017 NAEP, Alabama students posted slight gains (Click here for Alabama 2017 NAEP Results). Continued improvement in mathematics instruction is needed.

 

In reading, the percentage of children scoring proficient improved modestly in grades 3-6, but results for grades 7, 8 and 10 were mixed. Alabama had made significant progress in reading achievement, progress that coincided with investment in and deployment of the Alabama Reading Initiative (ARI). In the wake of the Great Recession, funding for the program was cut and school systems were given the flexibility in their use of ARI funds. The most recent state budget included a $4 million increase for ARI but stipulated that the program return to its initial focus on early grade reading.

 

Aspire tests for science were not uniformly administered for all grades in all years, but in the years and grades available, gains were also made in that subject.

 

In Alabama and across the country, the differences in the proficiency rates among various subgroups of students remains a concern. In both the state and the nation, the percentage of students from poverty backgrounds scoring proficient is about 25-30 percentage points lower than the percentage of nonpoverty students scoring proficient. Similar gaps between whites and blacks, and whites and Hispanic students.

 

 

As a result of those gaps, the percentage of the student body in a school system tends to predict the overall proficiency levels achieved by the students on these standardized tests. The scatterplot chart below shows this general correlation between proficiency levels and poverty levels. A school system’s proficiency rate determines its vertical position on the chart (higher on the chart, the higher the proficiency rate). A system’s poverty percentage, based on the percentage of students directly qualifying for free meals under the National School Lunch Program, determines the system’s position on the horizontal axis, with higher poverty districts to the left of the chart and lower poverty districts progressing to the right.

Though the correlation is obvious, it is also obvious that systems with similar poverty levels often show very different proficiency levels. In other words, the school systems can and do exceed expectations, through effective teaching, resources, and organization.

As a testing tool, Aspire had both fans and detractors. Critics complained that resources for preparing for the test were lacking and that results were not provided quickly. They also questioned whether the tests were properly aligned with the state’s course of study. Fans appreciated the fact that Aspire results were aligned with the ACT, the widely used college entrance exam. Thus, a student’s score on the Aspire tests served as a predictor for eventual performance on the ACT.

The test’s results, which showed lower proficiency rates than the previous state test, the Alabama Reading and Math Test, were also considered by many a more accurate reflection of students’ performance. Aspire proficiency levels for Alabama students were closer to the results Alabama students produced on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, though Aspire proficiency percentages were still higher than Alabama NAEP proficiency levels. Here is a comparison of Aspire and NAEP results for Alabama, with the proficiency levels for national public schools included for comparison.

 JurisdictionTest% of students at or above Proficient
4th Grade MathNational publicNAEP40%
AlabamaNAEP31%
AlabamaAspire49%
4th Grade ReadingNational publicNAEP35%
AlabamaNAEP31%
AlabamaAspire39%
8th Grade MathNational publicNAEP33%
AlabamaNAEP21%
AlabamaAspire30%
8th Grade ReadingNational publicNAEP35%
AlabamaNAEP28%
AlabamaAspire46%

College-Going Rates for Alabama High Schools

With population growth and a rising high school graduation rate, Alabama’s high schools are producing more graduates and they are sending more graduates, in absolute numbers, to higher education. However, at the same time, a slightly smaller percentage of graduates are moving directly into higher education. In 2016, 63 percent of high school graduates enrolled in college in the year after their graduation. That compares to a 65 percent enrollment rate in 2014.

That’s according to new data released by the Alabama Commission on High Education (ACHE). The data from the report is drawn from the National Student Clearinghouse, which tracks student entry and progress through higher education. College-going rates and college destination statistics for the state, for systems and for individual Alabama high schools can be found on PARCA’s Data Dashboard.

The findings in the most recent report are similar to patterns identified in another recently released dataset from ACHE, its high school feedback report. PARCA’s analysis of that data shows that though a slightly lower percentage of graduates are enrolling in higher education, those enrolling appear to be better prepared since a smaller percentage of those enrolled students are placed in remedial education after graduation.

Where are we now?

Alabama trails most U.S. states when it comes to educational attainment, with a smaller percentage of Alabama’s population aged 25-64 holding a college degree. Higher levels of educational attainment produce higher incomes and more job stability in an economy which increasingly demands education beyond high school. To close the gap with other states, Alabama needs a greater share of its population obtaining higher education credentials. But, according to the most recent comparative data, Alabama trails the national average and lags behind all other Southeastern states in the percentage of high school graduates going directly into college.

According to the new ACHE data, approximately 63 percent of Alabama high school graduates are enrolling in college the year after graduating from high school:

  • 32 percent of high school graduates in the state of Alabama enrolled in two-year colleges
  • 31 percent enrolled at a four-year college
  • 37 did not continue into higher education in the year after graduating from high school

Of those Alabama high school graduates enrolling in higher education:

  • 91 percent went to college in-state
  • 9 percent went to college in another state
  • 93 percent went to a public college
  • 7 percent enrolled at a private college

Variation by System

A deeper dive in the data shows how diverse the state’s educational eco-system is. Across the state, systems vary widely in the percentage of graduates who go on to higher education. Some patterns are predictable: affluent suburban districts tend to send most of their graduates to college at four-year colleges and universities. In general, high schools where more students are affluent have a greater share of students going on to higher education. In schools where poverty rates are higher, a smaller share of students go on to higher education (See this chart that compares college-going rates with the proportion of poverty students at a high school). However, a greater variance appears when the percentage of students going to two-year colleges is considered in the mix.

So, it’s not a surprise to find the Mountain Brook City School System topping the college-going list, with the highest percentage of graduates going on to higher education. Over 90 percent of Mountain Brook’s 2016 graduates enrolled in college, with the vast majority of them (86 percent of the graduates) entering a 4-year college. Only 5 percent of graduates enrolled in a two-year college.

More unexpected is the system that finished third on the college-going list. Brewton City Schools also had an impressive college-going rate of 85 percent, but the destination of Brewton’s graduates was different from Mountain Brook’s. In that system, 48 percent of graduates enrolled in a two-year college, while 37 percent went to four-year schools.

Those varying paths toward achieving a high college-going rate continue throughout the rankings.

Among the top 20 systems, 9 systems lean heavily toward 4-year college-going and 11 lean more heavily toward 2-year college going.

Variance by High Schools and Within Systems

When examining the college-going rates at individual high schools, the same contrasting picture of college destination is apparent. Some high schools achieve a high college-going rate by sending most graduates to four-year schools, while others send a high proportion of students to two-year colleges and thereby have high college-going rates.

In some systems, there is a significant variance among the high schools within the same school system. This is particularly true in systems that have magnet high schools (schools where students from throughout the district can apply to pursue advanced academic options).

This is most readily apparent in Montgomery County. Three magnet high schools in the Montgomery County system, Brewbaker Technology Magnet High School, Loveless Academic Magnet Program, and Booker T. Washington Magnet High Schools rank in the top 10 among high schools for the percentage of students enrolling in college the year after graduation. All three send close to 90 percent or more of their graduates to college, and most of them to four-year schools. By contrast, of the 2016 graduates of Lanier Senior High School, only 34 percent enrolled in higher education, according to the Clearinghouse data.

Where do we want to go?

In terms of national comparisons, Alabama has historically ranked low in educational attainment. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates 34 percent of Alabama’s population between the ages of 25 and 64 have an associate’s degree or higher. That ranks Alabama 9th lowest among U.S. states.

In order to increase Alabama competitiveness, Alabama high schools need to:

  • Continue increasing preparation levels of high school graduates
  • Identify and employ effective approaches for connecting students to higher education enrollment and financing opportunities

Colleges and universities need to:

  • Increase outreach to Alabama high school students
  • Address problems of access and affordability
  • And once in college, schools need to work with students to increase student persistence and graduation rates

Progress Made on Remedial Education

The latest statistics from the Alabama Commission on Higher Education (ACHE) show that Alabama high schools are making progress in producing graduates who are ready for college-level coursework.

According to the new report from ACHE, the percentage of high school graduates who had to take remedial courses upon entering Alabama colleges decreased to 28.8 percent for the graduating class of 2016, down from 30.4 percent in 2015 and 34.6 percent in 2011.

Why is remediation an issue?

In a perfect world, any student graduating from an Alabama high school who wishes to enter college would receive a level of education in high school that would prepare them for college-level courses.

However, that is often not the case. When colleges assess incoming students, the colleges often find that the students are in need of a catch-up course at college before they’re ready to tackle college-level work.

These remedial courses don’t count toward attainment of a college degree. They impose an expense on the students and the colleges, an expense that adds to the time and cost of attaining a college degree.

Alabama’s strategic plan for improving K-12 education, Plan 2020, set a goal of decreasing the remediation rate. When high schools do a better job of preparing students for college-level work, it produces savings for the student, their parents, and the education system in general.

While the goal set in Plan 2020 to reduce the remediation rate by approximately 3 percent a year has not been attained, K-12 schools have made progress.

To explore the statics for remediation and college going for local systems, follow this link. Bear in mind that the ACHE report only captures high school graduates who enrolled in the fall after their graduation in Alabama public colleges. The college-going and remediation rates for schools that send significant numbers of students to private colleges or to out-of-state colleges will not necessarily reflect the outcomes for the entire graduating class.

Progress Being Made

According to the ACHE data, the number of high school graduates in Alabama increased from 44,086 in 2011 to 49,953 in 2016, as the population has grown, and the graduation rate has improved.

The number of high school students enrolling at in-state public colleges has increased as well, though in 2016 the total enrollment number was down slightly in comparison to 2015.

However, the percentage of high school graduates enrolling in Alabama public colleges in the fall after graduation has declined slightly.  In 2016, 48 percent of high school graduates enrolled in Alabama higher education the following fall, compared to 53.4 percent in 2011. Data from other sources indicates that the total post-high school college-going rate for Alabama is around 62 percent (Unlike this set of ACHE statistics, those statistics capture students who go to private colleges or who go to college out-of-state).

In 2016, about half of the enrollees went to a two-year college and the other half to four-year colleges.

Remediation rates are calculated for two subjects: math and English.

The most progress has been made in decreasing the percentage of students having to take remedial English. In 2016, the percentage of students needing remedial courses in English dropped to 13 percent, down from 17 percent in 2013.

The percentage of enrolled students taking remedial math also declined to 24 percent in 2016, compared to 26 percent in 2013.

High School Graduation Rates

Remedial rates and college-going rates are affected by changes in Alabama’s high school graduation rate.  At the same time that the remediation rate has gone down, Alabama high schools have improved the high school graduation rate. In 2011, only 72 percent of students in Alabama high schools graduated on time. In 2016, the most recent year available, 89 percent of students graduated on time according to Alabama’s definition of graduation. To see PARCA’s presentation of 2016 high school graduation rates for the state and local schools, follow this link. 

The rapid rise in Alabama’s graduation rate has sparked some concern about whether Alabama’s rate had become inflated, that Alabama schools had lowered their standards for awarding high school diplomas. In trying to improve graduation rates, the state and local schools had made several changes. Alabama instituted a credit recovery system that allowed students who had failed the class to take targeted instruction to improve their areas of weakness rather than having them repeat the entire course. Alabama also dropped its high school exit exam, which had, in the past, prevented some students from graduating. Finally, the state also changed the way it defined who was eligible to receive a diploma and began allowing special education students taking “Essentials” courses (courses not fully aligned with Alabama academic standards) to count those courses toward graduation.

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Education launched an inquiry into Alabama’s standards for granting high school diplomas. As a result of the investigation and an audit of records, some of the students who took the Essentials classes should not have been counted as graduates under the federal definition of a graduate. After a thorough audit of student records, the 2016 graduation was recalculated removing some of those students in the Essentials pathways from the total counted as graduates. In the end, the graduation rate re-calculated for federal reporting was two percentage points lower than Alabama’s definition of who is a graduate.

The 2016 graduation rate report now includes both a state graduation rate and a federal graduation rate.  The most significant difference between the two rates is found among special education students. According to Alabama’s definition, 72 percent of special education students were counted as high school graduates in 2016. Under the federal definition which excludes the Essentials courses, only 54 percent of special education students were counted as graduates. That’s 1,106 fewer special education students counted as graduates under the federal definition.

Despite the concerns about the graduation rate, the new improved, lower remediation rate reported in the ACHE reports provides evidence that Alabama high schools are providing higher levels of preparation for graduates headed into higher education. However, the decline in the college-going rate also bears watching. The lower Alabama public college-going rate may indicate that some students are going straight into the workforce thanks to improvements in the economy.  It may also indicate some graduates don’t feel adequately prepared to immediately enter college. The cost of college has also continued to rise which may discourage some high school graduates from entering college.

Where do we go from here?

Alabama high schools should continue to increase the quality of education delivered in high school so that students enter college prepared for college-level work. High schools and colleges should also continue to improve efforts to help students apply for and finance a college education. According to the latest available statistics from the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS), Alabama’s rate for college going immediately after high school is 62.1 percent, slightly behind the national average of 62.6 percent. However, Alabama’s rate is lower than any other Southeastern state, indicating room for improvement.

 

 


Student Achievement Matters: The Future of Student Assessment in Alabama

In June 2017, the Alabama State Board of Education voted to cancel its contract with ACT for the administration of the ACT Aspire, a suite of standardized tests which, for the past four years, has served as the primary assessment tool Alabama used to gauge the annual academic progress of public school students across the state. Identifying the best replacement for Aspire is crucial. It’s a decision that affects everyone who cares about the quality of public education, from students, teachers, and parents to the leaders of government, education, and business.

PARCA’s latest report, Student Achievement Matters: The Future of Student Assessment Is Now, lays out the recent history of assessments, what state and national assessments tell us about the performance of Alabama students, and calls attention to the steps we should take from here.

It is vital that Alabama have an honest, rigorous, enduring test if students, parents, teachers, education leaders, and the state as a whole are going to have a realistic picture of Alabama’s educational system and an effective tool for gauging progress. An annual assessment of student achievement is required by federal law. State education leaders have indicated they will use an assessment provided by a different testing company, Scantron, in 2018.

Meanwhile, a process for determining a long-term replacement has begun. These decisions on the future of Alabama’s statewide assessments are critical. These assessments are a cornerstone of the state’s education accountability system. They are required by federal law. The assessments should tell us how students, schools, and systems are performing regarding state standards and in comparison to other peers, both in Alabama and in the nation at large.

The new report, commissioned by the Business Education Alliance and prepared with policy expertise from A+ Education Partnership, describes what the state should be looking for in a new assessment system and the process that should be in place for its selection.

A comprehensive system of high-quality student assessments should be an efficient system and produce the necessary information with the least amount of assessment. Student assessments are used to make vital decisions about instruction, interventions and support, advanced educational opportunities, and policies. High-quality, standardized student assessments are essential for evaluating equity among schools and within them.

Most importantly, assessments should be a tool for the growth of individual students, a true measure of strengths and weakness, and a real-world appraisal of a student’s position on the path to college and career readiness. In the globally competitive, technologically advanced economy of the 21st century, it is imperative that our graduates receive an education equal in quality to that received by students in other states. That is the only way our graduates can succeed, and our state can attract employers looking for qualified employees.

The decisions that will have to be made on the future of assessments in Alabama must be made with broad engagement and buy-in from the educational community, its citizenry, and the state’s political and business leadership. Student achievement matters to us all.

View the full report here.


Number and Percentage of Workforce Ready Graduates Increased in 2016

Just over 60 percent of Alabama’s 2016 high school graduates scored “workforce ready” in 2016, according to new results from ACT’s WorkKeys assessment. The Class of 2016’s success rate, 61.3 percent, improves on the 60.8 percent rate for the Class of 2015. And because a greater number of students took the test in 2016, the Class of 2016 produced more workforce ready graduates: 28,717 compared to 2015’s total of 25,453, netting an increase of 3,264 graduates earning Silver level or above workforce credentials.

This is the second year that all high school seniors were offered the WorkKeys assessment, a battery of tests designed to determine whether students can demonstrate the skills they’ll need to enter the workforce. ACT WorkKeys assessments have been used for more than two decades by job seekers, employees, employers, students, educators, administrators, and workforce and economic developers. The assessments are designed to measure both cognitive (“hard”) and noncognitive (“soft”) skills tests. Alabama students take the Applied Mathematics, Reading for Information, and Locating Information tests.  Based on the scores attained on the three assessments, students may be eligible to earn a Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum Certificate.

Statewide, 61.3 percent of high school graduates earned a Silver level WorkKeys certificate or higher; 47 percent reached the Silver level and 15 percent earned a Gold certificate. Less than 1 percent earned a Platinum Level Certificate. Of the students tested, 23 percent earned a bronze level certification and 16 percent didn’t score high enough to obtain a credential.

The WorkKeys test was developed by ACT, the same company that offers the ACT, the widely-known test of college readiness. When comparing school system performance on WorkKeys to results from the ACT, there are some differences in performance. For instance, the top scoring system on WorkKeys was Arab City, where 91 percent of graduates scored Silver or above. Arab ranked 10th in the state on the ACT in the percentage of students who met all benchmarks for college readiness (30 percent). Hartselle City ranked third in the state in the percentage of students scoring Silver or above (86 percent) on WorkKeys, but ranked 7th on ACT performance (33 percent of students meeting all college-ready benchmarks). Homewood City Schools was third in the state in the percentage of students earning all college-ready benchmarks on the ACT (46 percent) but was 14th on WorkKeys success (79 percent).

The content of the test was developed using a similar approach to the ACT. ACT surveyed employers to develop a catalog of the foundational skills needed to succeed in the workplace, across industries and occupations. ACT then developed a test to measure whether prospective employees or, in this case, high school students, had those necessary skills to perform in the nearly 20,000 occupations ACT evaluated. The results can be provided to employers to demonstrate that a job applicant has the skills needed for workplace success. Using the results, students should be able to determine their skill levels, identify skills needing improvement, and match the measured skill levels to specific job requirements.

Those scoring at the Platinum Level have demonstrated the skills needed for 99 percent of the occupations in the ACT jobs dataset. Those earning a Gold level certificate should be ready for 93 percent of jobs in the database. Scoring at the Silver level indicates a candidate has the skills necessary to succeed in 67 percent of jobs in the ACT database. Those earning a bronze certificate are judged to be ready for 16 percent of jobs.

Additional information for understanding WorkKey’s scores can be found on ACT’s website, including this guide to understanding your scores.

When the state’s strategic plan for education, Plan 2020, was adopted by the State Board of Education, the board set a goal of achieving a 90 percent graduation rate.

At the same time, it set a goal of having all those graduates ready for college and career. Earning a Silver WorkKeys certificate or higher is one way a student can be judged as college and career ready. Graduates can also demonstrate college and career readiness by:

  1. Scoring at or above the college readiness benchmark on one of the tested subjects on the ACT
  2. Earning a passing score (3 or above) on an Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exam
  3. Receiving an industry-recognized credential recognized in the appropriate business sector
  4. Earning college credit through dual enrollment at a two-year college or university
  5. Successfully enlisting in the U.S. military.

 

 

You can explore the results for Alabama’s public schools and systems in the interactive charts below.

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2016 Aspire Results for the Schools and Systems

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New data show Alabama students improving performance in math, reading, and science on the ACT Aspire, the year-end standardized tests given to students across Alabama. In all three subjects, the percentage of students scoring proficient improved, at almost all grade levels.

At the same time, long-term weaknesses persist. While math performance is improving in the early grades, and most encouragingly in 7th and 8th grade, by 10th grade, only 18 percent of students test proficient in math. And in reading, 32 percent of 10th graders scored proficient. Scoring proficient on the Aspire indicates that a student is on track to be ready for college-level work in that subject. The results for 10th graders in reading, math and science are similar to performance levels posted by Alabama student performance on the ACT in 2016. PARCA recently reported on those scores.

In releasing the results, Alabama’s new State Superintendent Michael Sentance noted areas of improvement and showcased schools systems that showed high performance or high levels of gain. But he noted that challenges, particularly in the upper grades, are “clearly daunting.”

This is the third year all schools statewide have administered the Aspire, a suite of tests developed by ACT, a company most widely known for its college readiness test, the ACT.

Statewide, the percentage of students scoring proficient in math rose in all grades, except 10th. This continues the trend of improvement in math, particularly in the early grades, where the gains have been largest.

Math All Grades Compared 2014-2016 with 10

In reading, the percentage of students scoring proficient also improved in all grades 3-8, except for 6th grade, which saw 42 percent of students scoring proficient compared to 43 percent of students in 2015. The improvement in reading proficiency, while not dramatic, is better than last year’s results when performance was flat or slightly declining in comparison to 2014.

This is the second year that all students in grades 3-10 took an Aspire assessment for science. Again, in all grades the percentage of students scoring proficient improved except 6th grade where the proficiency percentage matched the 2015 level.

Students take the Aspire again in 10th grade. The results are shown below. For 2016, students took the reading assessment rather than the English assessment that they’d taken the previous two years. That means comparison year-over-year comparison data is not available. However, these 10th-grade results are similar to those Alabama has typically produced when taking the ACT. In 2016, 22 percent of the graduating class of 2016 scored at the college-ready level on the ACT; 22 percent in science; 32 percent in reading.

Speaking to the State Board of Education, Sentance said that Alabama needs to improve its performance and pointed to the Chicago Cub’s historic World Series win this fall as evidence that there’s no curse that can’t be broken with sustained effort.

State School Board member Mary Scott Hunter agreed and added a quip: “We are not going to wait 100 years,” she said.

The interactive data tool below allows for in-depth exploration of the results at the system and school level. Use the available filter to select for your system and school results. When making comparisons across schools and systems, it is important to keep in mind the demographic mix of the student body. Across Alabama and the nation, the proficiency rate of poverty students lags about 30 percentage points behind the proficiency rate of nonpoverty students. Schools and system that serve large numbers of students from poverty households tend to show lower overall proficiency rates when compared to schools with lower poverty rates. In the 2016 Alabama Aspire results, that gap persists.

Another important note on the data: To protect student privacy, the State Department of Education does not publish results for demographic subgroups where there are only a small number of students in that group. Therefore, in instances where there are a small number of students in the test group, no results will appear.


2016 ACT Results by System and School

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Alabama’s 2016 school and system-level results for the ACT, the widely-known test of college readiness, are now available. With the interactive charts posted below, you can explore how well your local public school system or high school is preparing students for college-level academics.

The 2016 results are for those students who graduated from high school in 2016. Compared to 2015, both more graduates and a higher percentage of graduates took the test in 2016. The percentage of tested students demonstrating college readiness in English, science and reading fell slightly from 2015 levels, while the percentage found to be college ready in math and the percentage of students achieving all four benchmarks remained steady. The average composite scale score for Alabama students was 18.7.

This is the second year of results for which the state of Alabama made the ACT available to all students. In the past, only students who were college bound and who paid for the test themselves took the test. Now, it is offered to all high school students who take the test in their junior year. Some take it again in their senior year. The results reflect the final performance level of students who graduated from high school.

Because all Alabama students take the ACT, Alabama’s results shouldn’t be compared to the national average or to other states in which a more limited number of students take the ACT.

The ACT is one of several measures that state and local schools use to determine whether their graduates are ready for college and career.

In addition to succeeding on the ACT, a student can be classified college or career ready if he or she:

  1.  Scored at either the silver, gold or platinum level on WorkKeys, a test that measures workplace skills
  2.  Earned a passing score (3 or above) on an Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exam
  3.  Received an industry-recognized credential recognized in the appropriate business sector
  4.  Earned college credit through dual-enrollment at a two-year college or university
  5.  Successfully enlisted in the U.S. military

 

The cumulative college and career readiness rate for the Class of 2016 has not been published yet. For the graduating Class of 2015, the State Department of Education reported that 68 percent of graduates met one of those definitions of career/college readiness.

On the ACT, the state counts a graduate as college ready if he or she scores at or above the college-ready benchmark in one of four subjects on the ACT: English, reading, math, or science. According to the ACT, if a student meets or beats the college-ready benchmark in a subject, that student has a 50 percent chance of making a B or better in a college-level course in that subject and a 75 percent chance of making a C or better.

In 2016, statewide, 50 percent of students scored college ready in English (down from 52 percent in 2015); 32 percent achieved the benchmark in reading (down from 33 percent); 22 percent in math (level with 2015); 22 percent in science (down from 24 percent in 2015). Only 15 percent of students statewide scored, met or exceeded all four college-ready benchmarks (level with 2015).

This year’s ACT results follow a similar pattern to results on the Aspire, the standardized tests given to children in grades 3-8 and 10th grade. In systems with lower rates of poverty, a higher percentage of students meet or exceed the college-ready benchmark. In systems with higher poverty percentage, a lower percentage of students score at or above the benchmark. In the statewide results, that gap in ACT performance can be seen when comparing the contrasting results between different demographic subgroups. For example, the percentage of nonpoverty students meeting or exceeding the benchmark in English is 68 percent, while the percentage of students from poverty households who meet or exceed the ACT English benchmark is 35 percent. The nonpoverty vs. poverty gap is 27 percentage points in reading and 24 percentage points in both math and science.

One warning when exploring the data: while the data provided by the state allows comparisons between subgroups, it is, in some cases, inaccurate where the poverty and nonpoverty results are concerned. The state classifies students as falling in the poverty subgroup if they are eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program. Traditionally, students qualified for the free or reduced school meals because their family qualified for food stamps or other poverty relief programs. Additional students from families with documented financial need could also be deemed eligible. More recently, the federal government began allowing schools and systems with a high percentage of poverty students to offer free lunches to all students. In those schools, all students are included by the state in both the poverty and nonpoverty results. A list of participating schools and systems can be found on the State Department website. Consequently, care should be taken when making performance comparisons.