New College-Going Rates by High School

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What percentage of the graduates from your local high school go on to college?

Where do they go? To four-year universities or two-year colleges? In-state or out-of-state? Private or public?

Answers to those questions can be found in new data provided by the Alabama Commission on Higher Education. The data, drawn by ACHE from the National Student Clearinghouse, provides college-going data both for the state as a whole and for all Alabama public high schools. It’s just the second year this comprehensive set of data has been available. Previously, ACHE’s college-going statistics could only report on high school graduates entering public colleges and universities in Alabama. The more comprehensive data captures enrolling in public and private colleges throughout the country.

Alabama’s high school graduation rate reached 89 percent in 2015, and thanks in part to that, the state’s public high schools produced more graduates who entered higher education at both two-year colleges and four-year schools. The number of students who graduated but did not enroll in college the year after graduation also increased.

Of the students in the graduating class of 2015, 64 percent enrolled in higher education: 32 percent at a two-year college, 32 percent at a 4-year institution. Meanwhile, 36 percent did not enroll in that first year after graduation.

Of those that graduates who went on to college, 91 percent went to college in the state of Alabama and 9 percent enrolled in out-of-state institutions; 7 percent of graduates enrolled in private colleges and 93 percent went to public colleges and university. Using the selection boxes below you can look at the statistics for any high school in the state.

When making comparisons of college-going rates, it’s important to keep the socio-economic composition of the various schools and systems in mind. Students from families with higher incomes and whose parents went to college are more likely to go on to higher education. Those students tend to have great exposure and access to higher education and also have greater ability to afford college. The National Student Clearinghouse annually publishes a report on college-going rates and persistence through college. The report includes comparisons of the results from schools with varying demographic compositions. The Student Clearinghouse study looks at enrollment in the fall after graduation, while the ACHE data looks at enrollment at any time in the first year after graduation from high school. Regardless, the Student Clearinghouse data shows clear differences in the college-going rates between high-poverty and low-poverty school systems. The chart below represents college enrollment rates in the first fall after high school graduation for the U.S. national class of 2014, from public non-charter Schools, by poverty level. Further discussion can be found in the Clearinghouse report: High School Benchmarks 2015: National College Progression Rates.

With those distinctions in mind, the comparative data from Alabama shows striking differences in college-going rates and the destination of students after graduation.

Systems with low poverty rates, like Mountain Brook and Vestavia Hills, send most of their graduates on to four-year colleges and universities. Other systems with somewhat higher poverty percentages still send a large percentage of graduates off to college. However, more of those graduates start at a community college.

When comparing individual high schools, it is also important to keep in mind that some high schools, like Loveless Academic Magnet Program (LAMP) in Montgomery or Ramsay High School in the Birmingham City System, are academic magnets. Those magnet schools also tend to send a higher percentage of students on to higher education. In fact, the top four Alabama high schools in terms of college-going rate are magnets: three Montgomery magnets — LAMP at 98 percent, Booker T. Washington at 94 percent, and Brewbaker Technology Magnet at 93 percent — plus Birmingham’s Ramsay at 93 percent.

With two years of data from ACHE, it is now possible to note year-over-year changes in the percentage of students going on to higher education from various schools. When looking at those year-to-year changes, it is important to keep in mind that smaller high schools will see bigger fluctuations because a few more students going on to college can make a bigger change in the percentage of graduates going on to college. Comparing the graduating classes of 2014 and 2015, the biggest change in college-going rates occurred at Sunshine High School in Hale County. Because Hale County has now closed Sunshine, its 2015 graduating class will be its last. But that class showed a remarkable jump in college-going. In 2014, Sunshine produced 14 graduates, and half of them went on to higher education. In 2015, the school produced 23 graduates and 85 percent of those graduates enrolled in higher education the year after graduation. According to Hale County Superintendent Osie Pickens, the Hale County High School counseling staff made an extra effort to place that last class of graduating students from Sunshine resulting in the jump in college-going rate.

The tool below presents five different views of the data. The first tab contains a graph that presents each high school’s college-going rate along with the percentage of its students from households in poverty. The second tab is a chart that presents college-going at the system level, including the percentages of graduates going to four-year colleges, two-year schools, and the percentage that didn’t enroll. The third tab presents the same information at the school level. The fourth tab presents system-level statistics for the numbers of graduates, the percentage of graduates going on to higher education, and the percentage point change in college-going for that system between 2014 and 2015. The fifth tab presents the same statistics at the school level.

Exceeding Expectations: Keys to Alabama’s Student Success

The latest report by PARCA was released last week at the Business Council of Alabama’s 2016 Governmental Affairs Conference. The report, entitled “Exceeding Expectations: Keys to Alabama’s Student Success,” the third PARCA research report commissioned by the Business Education Alliance of Alabama (BEA).

Exceeding Expectations examines the progress state schools have made toward goals established under the state’s strategic plan for improving education, Plan 2020. While noting the gains in the state’s high school graduation rate, the report also points to the need to improve the college and career readiness of graduates. By spotlighting school systems that have been the most successful in performance and improvement, the report attempts to describe common approaches and practices that can be emulated by other school systems.

Using a variety of metrics, PARCA identified systems that consistently perform at the highest level (Mountain Brook, Vestavia Hills, Madison City, and Homewood City); systems that were the most improved in reading (Muscle Shoals City) and math (Opp City Schools); and systems that significantly outperformed expectations considering the socioeconomic backgrounds of the students they serve (Oxford City and Pike County).

The report found that all of the high-performing systems not only adopted the Alabama’s new College and Career Ready Standards, they also invested significant time and effort into translating the standards for application to the classroom. These systems prioritize professional development for teachers, building time into the school day for teachers to plan, analyze data, and collaborate on improving their teaching. They have created systems for supporting teachers through coaching and mentoring for first-year teachers. These systems have challenged teachers to move from a lecture-driven, teacher-centered classroom toward an environment in which students take ownership of learning.

The report also describes Selma City System’s approach to providing Pre-K for its students and Blount County’s focus on improving the quality and quantity of career and technical education offerings.

“Alabama school systems have been challenged like never before by the aspirational goals of Plan 2020; however, we know we can accomplish the goals it outlines – we must,” said Joe Morton, Ph.D., BEA chairman and president, in presenting the report.

Last month, PARCA won a national award from the Governmental Research Association for its two previous reports for the BEA, Obstacles into Opportunities published in 2014, and Teachers Matter published in 2015.

PARCA’s research and analysis have helped provide an objective foundation and policy framework for increased investment in key initiatives such as the expansion of the state’s First Class public Pre-K program, for investments in teacher quality, and for more rigorous and thorough assessments of Alabama students’ academic performance.

PARCA Wins National Award for Education Research

PARCA’s research reports on education funding, Alabama’s education performance, and plans for its improvement received national recognition by the Governmental Research Association (GRA) at the GRA’s annual conference in Pittsburgh last week.

PARCA received the GRA award for “Outstanding Policy Achievement” on a state government issue for its ongoing work to evaluate the progress of the Alabama’s strategic plan for improving education, Plan 2020. The award was given based on several criteria, including the display of tangible improvements in public policy and/or cost savings resulting from the research and recommendations of a governmental research agency.

PARCA’s research and analysis has helped provide an objective foundation and policy framework for increased investment in key initiatives such as the expansion of the state’s First Class public Pre-K program, for investments in teacher quality, and for more rigorous and thorough assessments of Alabama students’ academic performance.

Senator Arthur Orr, Chairperson of the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee remarked on PARCA’s work, “In the Legislature we are constantly bombarded with results-oriented data from special interest groups. I feel confident dealing with the neutral, trustworthy data provided by PARCA. Their work has significantly influenced Alabama’s education policy in a positive manner.”

The award included recognition for three pieces of PARCA’s education research. The first piece was a survey of public opinion published in January 2016 which revealed that Alabama citizens were willing to pay more for education funding. The award also recognized two studies published on Alabama’s education system. Both reports were commissioned and funded by the Business Education Alliance of Alabama.

“The Business and Education Alliance (BEA) has one main goal–To improve public education and build a first class work force for Alabama” said Joe Morton, Ph.D., Chairman and President of BEA. “We immediately turned to PARCA for their expertise and never regretted it.”

Obstacles into Opportunities was published in 2014 and details the steps PARCA identified as necessary for Alabama to meet its goal of a 90% high school graduation rate by 2020, having those graduates prepared for the modern economy. The second report, Teachers Matter, was published in 2015. It examines how to create and retain high quality teachers.

This is the 10th national award that PARCA has received from the GRA, which was founded in 1914 as the national organization of individuals involved in government research. GRA’s annual awards competition is conducted to “recognize exceptional research on state and local governmental issues performed by staff members of governmental research agencies.”

PARCA’s retired executive director Jim Williams was also honored at the GRA annual conference. He received the 2016 Frederick P. Gruenberg Award. The Gruenberg Award is the highest distinction that the GRA can bestow on individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the field of governmental research during their careers. Jim’s work over the course of his 27-years at PARCA had a substantial impact on Alabama’s governmental practices and policy.


2016 Tuscaloosa Education Summit

Tuscaloosa’s annual Education Summit, organized by the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama, was held on Wednesday, June 8th at the Bryant Conference Center at the University of Alabama.

The summit, titled “Chamber in Session: State of Education,” focused on local education and the performance of the Tuscaloosa City and County Schools.

PARCA kicked off the morning with a presentation of funding and school performance data for both school systems. The data tables are available here and the full presentation can be viewed by clicking the image below.

2015 WorkKeys Assessments for Alabama Schools and Systems

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In 2015, for the first time, all high school seniors took a new assessment test, WorkKeys, designed to determine whether students are learning the skills they need to enter the workforce.

The results from that first WorkKeys assessment are in and are now available for local systems and schools.

Statewide, 60 percent of high school graduates tested were deemed workforce ready, according to the results. By the State Department of Education’s definition, a student who earned a Silver certificate or higher is workforce ready.

The WorkKeys test was developed by ACT, the same company that offers the ACT, the widely-known test of college readiness. 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.

WorkKeys has three core skill assessments: Applied Mathematics, Locating Information, and Reading for Information. The assessments are then graded, and test-takers are assigned a skill level.

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.

Statewide, 1 percent of Alabama’s 2015 high school graduates earned a Platinum certificate; 16 percent earned Gold; 44 percent earned Silver. Those graduates were, by the State Board of Education, to be career ready. Graduates who earned a bronze level certificate, 27 percent of graduates, and those who failed to earn a certificate, 13 percent of graduates, did not earn the college and career ready stamp.

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 is one way a student can be judged as college and career ready. They 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.

In 2015, 89 percent of Alabama high school students graduated on time, four years after entering the 9th grade. A preliminary State Department of Education analysis found that 68 percent of those graduates met one or more of those college and career ready measures.

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.

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.

The results can be provided to employers to demonstrate that a job applicant has the skills needed for workplace success.

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

2015 ACT Results by System and High School

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We now have the 2015 results for the ACT, the widely-known test of college readiness. With interactive charts posted below, you can explore how well your local public school system or high school is doing preparing students for college.

This is the first set of results in which all Alabama high school students took the ACT.  In the past, only students who were college bound took the ACT. Now, all high school students take the test in their junior year, and the results reflect the percentage of students who graduated from high school ready to succeed in college-level courses as measured by the ACT.

Because the universe of students taking the test has widened to include all students, this year’s results for the state and for schools should not be compared to previous years or to national averages.

The ACT is one of several measures the 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.

Statewide, the Alabama’s high school graduation rate climbed to 89 percent in 2015. The state Department of Education reported in January that 68 percent of graduates had 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 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.

Statewide, 52 percent of students scored college ready in English; 33 percent in reading; 22 percent in math; 24 percent in science. Only 15 percent of students statewide scored met or exceeded all four college-ready benchmarks.

This year’s ACT results follow a similar pattern to results on the Aspire, the standardized tests given to children in grades 3-8. 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 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. While it is important to keep poverty rates in mind when judging schools and systems, a school’s demographics don’t dictate results. Judging by the results, some schools are more effective at preparing students for college.

That is especially noticeable at the school level. The school with the highest rate of graduates testing college ready on all subjects is Montgomery County’s Loveless Academic Magnet Program (LAMP) High School. In general, magnet schools like LAMP, which draw the most academically advanced students and which offer the widest selection of college-level courses, tend to produce higher percentages of college-ready students.

Note: Results have been updated to include access to results for the 2015-2016 graduating class.

2015 Aspire Results for Systems and Schools

Want to explore how your local public school system or school performed on the statewide benchmark test, the ACT Aspire?

Using Aspire results, PARCA works with local school systems to analyze performance, building comparisons with similar systems and with the state as a whole. In grades 3-8, students are tested in reading, math, and science. In 10th grade, the tested subjects are English, math, and science. Our key metric is the percentage of students tested who score proficient on a particular test. By scoring at or above proficient, a student is considered to be “on track” for his or her grade level. Students who stay on track should be able to succeed on the college readiness test, the ACT. A student meeting or exceeding the benchmark on the ACT is judged to be ready for success in college.

While systems are often judged on the test results generated by “all students” taking the test, it is important to look deeper at comparisons of how the various subgroups of students perform. Students from low-income backgrounds, as a group, don’t perform as well on these types of tests as students from more higher-income backgrounds. Thus, a school system’s performance should be judged in context. Are nonpoverty students in a school performing as well as nonpoverty students elsewhere? How do the results for poverty students compare to results generated by other systems?

New for 2015 is the ability to compare a school or system’s performance with its results from 2014. Did a school or system improve performance from one year to the next?

The interactive charts below allow you to build your own comparisons between peer schools and systems. Are students in your school succeeding at the same rate as those in the comparison schools? Tabs at the top of the chart allow you to look at the data in various ways.

If you dive deep in the data, you may notice that there are some schools and systems that don’t display results on some measures. There are a couple of reasons for this. In some circumstances, the tested population for that measure is very small. In that case, the State Department of Education doesn’t release results in order to protect student privacy. A second reason data might not be available has to do with the way schools and systems identify poverty students. Traditionally, students who were eligible to receive free or reduced-price lunches under the National School Lunch program were identified as students in poverty. In recent years, schools and systems with higher concentrations of poverty have had the option of providing free lunches to all students. In those schools and systems, all students are identified as poverty students. This leaves us unable to compare the performance of poverty and nonpoverty students in those schools.

College-Going Rates by High School

The Alabama Commission on Higher Education has produced a new set of data that gives a more complete picture of the college-going rate statewide and for individual high schools. According to the data, of the 45,760 students who graduated in the spring of 2014:

–     33 percent enrolled in two-year colleges

–     32 percent enrolled in four-year colleges and universities

–     35 percent of graduates did not enroll in higher education in the year after their graduation

Historically, ACHE, the state’s coordinating agency for higher education, has surveyed Alabama public colleges, both two-year and four-year, in order to determine the number of Alabama public high school graduates who enrolled in college the year following their high school graduation. In determining college-going rates, that data had limitations because it only tracked those students who enrolled in Alabama public colleges. Students who went to private schools or went out of state were not counted.

Now, drawing from data compiled by the National Student Clearinghouse, ACHE can follow the enrollment of all public high school graduates whether they go to public or private schools after graduation, both in-state and out of state. The new data that gives a more complete picture of college-going rates.

That data is presented in the interactive charts below.

Plan 2020, Alabama’s strategic plan for public education, sets a goal of having 90 percent of students graduate on time and that those students who do graduate are ready for college and/or career. To some extent, this college-going rate is a reflection of how well schools are doing at producing graduates who are ready to go into higher education. However, it is very important to realize that college-going is highly correlated with a student’s socio-economic status. High schools that have a more affluent student population will see a much higher percentage of their students proceed directly into college. Schools that work with more low-income students will have a lower college-going rate.

Regardless of their demographic makeup, all schools and systems should be looking for ways to promote college access for their graduates. A study published this month by the Pew Research Center found that the middle class is shrinking as a percentage of the population. According to Pew’s analysis of government data, education levels are a key factor in an individual’s economic prosperity. Individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher are experiencing economic gains, with and increasing share of them moving into upper-income brackets. On the other hand, those without a college degree are slipping farther behind.

Along with the broad effort by public schools to improve students’ preparation for college, there are also targeted efforts underway to increase college-going rates by better connecting students with the resources they need to pay for college. To access financial aid available to help pay for college, students must fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA form is notoriously difficult to complete, but successful completion of the form greatly increases the chances a student will enter college. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 90 percent of students who complete a FAFSA form attend college the following fall. Cash For College is a statewide FAFSA completion campaign coordinated by Alabama Possible, a non-profit working to combat poverty. Alabama Possible is working with the Alabama State Department of Education, local schools, and higher education institutions to boost FAFSA completion. The organization provides tools, data, and strategic approaches that schools can use to boost FAFSA completion rates, with an end goal of helping more students enter and pay for college.

Cash For College is a statewide FAFSA completion campaign coordinated by Alabama Possible, a non-profit working to combat poverty. Alabama Possible is working with the Alabama State Department of Education, local schools, and higher education institutions to boost FAFSA completion. The organization provides tools, data, and strategic approaches that schools can use to boost FAFSA completion rates, with an end goal of helping more students enter and pay for college. Information on how to participate is available on the Alabama Possible website.

The charts below allow you to examine the rate of college-going by county, by system, and by individual school. The charts allow you to look at the percentage of students who enroll in four-year schools, two-year schools, and the percentage of graduates who haven’t enrolled. This set of data looks at the high school students who graduated in the spring of 2014. The National Student Clearinghouse database was then checked in July of 2015 to determine whether those high school graduates had enrolled in higher education the year following their graduation.

Education Trust Fund Grows but School Spending Still Behind

Receipts to Alabama’s Education Trust Fund grew by 4.2 percent in FY2015, according to year-end revenue reports, allowing the state to finish repaying the education’s borrowing from the state savings account and to begin socking away additional savings for the next downturn.

It should be noted, however, that for the current budget year, state support for local K-12 schools is still lower than it was in 2008.

The total received by the ETF, the account that pays for K-12 and higher education, climbed from $5.8 billion to $6 billion. Proceeds from the state sales tax were up 3.25 percent, and individual income tax totals increased 4 percent. Gross corporate income taxes collections were up substantially, but a big chunk of that was due to a one-time infusion of $90 million that came as the result of an audit. Leaving out that $90 million, gross collections were up 1.75 percent. At the same time, though, refunds to companies paying the corporate income tax were down. As a bottom line, when the one-time payment is factored out and the refunds factored in, receipts from the corporate income tax were up 6.3 percent. The chart below summarizes the receipts to the Education Trust Fund.

The growth allowed the state to repay prior obligations and to begin reserving money to offset future downturns. From the sales tax, $24 million was spent to restore the financing of the state’s pre-paid tuition program (PACT). Another $58 million was used to repay the Alabama Trust Fund for withdrawals from the Rainy Day Fund made during the Great Recession. The Rainy Day Fund is a pool of money within the oil and gas trust fund that can be drawn on to prevent mid-year budget cuts, known as proration.

In addition, the 2011 Rolling Reserve Act places a cap on the amount ETF spending can increase each year. Those limitations on the 2015 budget resulted in the ETF ending the year with a positive balance of $140 million. Of that, $118 million will be held in what’s known as the Budget Stabilization Fund. In the event of an economic downturn, that will provide an additional cushion against proration. The other $22 million of that 2015 balance will be deposited in an Advancement and Technology Fund, which the Legislature can tap to pay for repairs or deferred maintenance of facilities, for classroom instructional support, for insuring facilities, for transportation, or for the acquisition and/or purchase of education technology and equipment.

The 2016 budget makes $4 billion in state funds available to support local schools. By comparison, the 2008 budget allocated $4.3 billion. Allocations for technology, textbooks, professional development, transportation, classroom supplies, and student materials are still well below 2008 levels.

Alabama Brings Home Disappointing Results on Nation's Report Card

The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) is a battery of tests given every two years to a representative sample of students in all 50 states. The test is designed to serve as a national scorecard, allowing comparison of educational performance across the states.

The 2015 results are out. They’re disappointing for the nation at large, and for Alabama, in particular.

In 2015, Alabama’s average math score, in both 4th and 8th grade, was the lowest of any state. Between 2013 and 2015, Alabama’s average score declined in both grades.

Among U.S. states, Alabama had the lowest percentage of students scoring proficient in 4th and 8th grade. Only 26 percent of 4th graders and 17 percent of 8th graders scored high enough on the NAEP to be considered grade-level proficient in math.

While Alabama’s higher poverty rate puts it at something of a competitive disadvantage in national comparisons, a deeper look shows it’s not Alabama’s demographics skewing the results. Name the group — black, white, Hispanic, poverty and nonpoverty — all perform worse than their peers in all other states.

Our neighbor to the west, Mississippi, continued a multi-year trend of improvement in 4th-grade math, surpassing Alabama and being recognized nationally for being one of the few places that saw an appreciable rise in math scores.

When it comes to reading, Alabama’s performance, particularly in 4th grade, had been a bright spot. In 2011, Alabama students matched the national average on the NAEP. But since then there has been a slight downward drift in 4th-grade reading. One minor victory: the average score in reading among Alabama 8th graders rose. However, the results still trail the national average.

It is worth noting that both nationally and in Alabama, the 2015 scores far exceed those posted by students in the 1990s.

In responding to the results, state department officials said the scores made it clear that the state has much work to do when it comes to preparing students for success. The Department plans to study the results and to query teachers to determine what is needed in terms of professional development, then work with school systems to see that it is provided.