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
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:
Scoring at or above the college readiness benchmark on one of the tested subjects on the ACT
Earning a passing score (3 or above) on an Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exam
Receiving an industry-recognized credential recognized in the appropriate business sector
Earning college credit through dual enrollment at a two-year college or university
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.
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:
Scored at either the silver, gold or platinum level on WorkKeys, a test that measures workplace skills
Earned a passing score (3 or above) on an Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exam
Received an industry-recognized credential recognized in the appropriate business sector
Earned college credit through dual-enrollment at a two-year college or university.
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.
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.
Measuring Performance in Higher Education
K-12 education has been, in recent years, the subject of a massive amount of data-gathering and analysis. From individual classrooms to state boards of education, data is being used to evaluate, to tailor instruction, and to set goals and track performance. Through an examination of the data, we are asking questions: Are we producing the results we want to see? Are we investing public money wisely?
More recently, some of that attention has shifted to higher education.
Last month saw the release of a new College Scorecard by the U.S. Department of Education, a web-based, user-friendly presentation of data on institutions of higher learning.
Parents, students, and state taxpayers all have an interest in evaluating their investment in higher education. And the federal government is increasingly interested in the performance of higher education institutions since the entire apparatus of higher education relies heavily on federal financing, through grants and loans.
Many of the Scorecard’s statistics have long been available. In Alabama, the Alabama Commission on Higher Education (ACHE) is the centralized source of higher education data-gathering. ACHE produces regular reports on a wide variety of metrics and publishes them on its website. Collected nationally, these statistics have long been used by news organizations or other publications to rank colleges.
The new federal site makes the data more accessible, and it adds financial information about the earnings of graduates. Aggregated earnings and loan repayment information are drawn from tax returns filed with the IRS and matched with students who used financial aid to help pay for college.
As with any statistics, it is important to acknowledge the limitations of the data and also to consider it in context. The Department of Education plans to continue refining the data and its presentation. And this first publication is receiving both praise and criticism, as well as suggestions for how it might be improved in the future.
Here are a few of the limitations:
A) Earnings data is based only on students who used federal loans to help pay for college.
B) Average salary data mixes students who pursue a wide variety of professions, some highly paid and others that aren’t.
C) The socio-economic status of students entering colleges is highly correlated with student status after leaving college, thus any comparisons between schools should take the composition of the student body into account.
To further explain that last point: the effects of poverty that we see in K-12 education data don’t disappear in higher education. For example, we find lower graduation rates at schools where the majority of students come from low-income households. At those schools, students tend to enter with lower levels of college readiness, as reflected in lower average ACT scores.
Those students have often come from under-resourced or academically challenged schools. All public institutions, and, in particular, historically black colleges and universities make it a point to provide access to such students. That access is vital, but it’s equally important that students succeed once they are admitted.
Lower-income college students end up having to borrow more to finance a college education. They often face greater challenges staying in college and finishing on time because of financial pressures. The new figures show that schools that work with the most challenged students have lower rates of graduation and higher levels of debt on graduation. That is not particularly surprising, but the release of the new data is causing all colleges and universities to put more energy into keeping students in school and on track to graduate.
The new data also highlights the importance of Plan 2020, Alabama’s strategic plan for improving public education. Plan 2020 sets a goal of having all graduates prepared for college and career. All public school students now take the ACT college readiness test in the fall of the 11th grade. If a student fails to achieve a benchmark score on any of the ACT subjects, it indicates that student isn’t prepared for college-level work. Knowing that, a student and the high school can focus on those areas that need improvement.
If K-12 and colleges can cooperate in bringing these students up to proficiency before they graduate high school, those students would be less likely to need remediation once they reach college. They’d also be much more likely to graduate and move into higher earning professions.
Below is a presentation of results for Alabama schools drawn from the College Scorecard data. Use the tabs at the top of the chart to navigate through the data.
Alabama Statewide ACT Results for 2015
Alabama’s 2015 graduating class was the first in which all students took the well-known college readiness test, the ACT. New state-level reports on the 2015 results provide a wealth of information that can be useful to parents, students, and educators.
Before we take a closer look at Alabama’s results, it’s important to understand the benefits of having all students take the ACT. It’s also important to understand the consequences of that choice.
Students take the ACT to demonstrate they’re ready for college. Colleges use the results to help determine whether an applicant is admitted and whether he or she qualifies for a scholarship. Before public schools started offering the ACT, some students didn’t take it. For some, the cost was an issue. Some didn’t plan on going to college. Others might have had difficulty arranging to take the test outside of school and outside of school hours.
Now, all students have the opportunity to take the test in a convenient location at no cost to the student. This should increase college-going opportunity. And since the test is taken by high school juniors, students can focus during their senior year on areas of weakness, so that they can go to college better prepared to succeed. The ACT has four subject areas – English, reading, math and science. According to ACT, a student who scores at or above the readiness benchmark in the given subject has a 50 percent chance of making a B or better in a college-level class and a 75 percent chance of making a C or better.
The ACT is designed to test what a student has learned in school. Alabama has adopted another set of tests produced by ACT, the Aspire, to test children in grades 3-8 on what they’ve learned at each grade level. Aspire results are intended to predict roughly a student’s trajectory toward success on the ACT; students who exceed the readiness benchmark on the Aspire are expected to be on track to perform well on the ACT.
Alabama’s decision to give the ACT to all high school juniors makes a lot of sense. However, it significantly changes the pool of students taking the ACT in Alabama. Now, it’s not just the kids who plan to go to college taking the test; it’s everyone.
Alabama’s State Board of Education has set a goal of having 90 percent of Alabama high school students graduate and graduate prepared for college and career. The ACT is just one measure of whether those students are college and career ready. The ACT is designed to predict success at a four-year undergraduate university. Not every high school graduate is headed for a university. Some career-ready students will head straight into the workforce, into technical training, or the military. So, ACT results are not the only measure of career readiness. That being said, it’s a measure the state needs to see improve. Only 16 percent of the 2015 graduates were college-ready in all four subjects.
Since the 2015 results are the first in which all Alabama graduates took the ACT, these scores serve as a baseline from which to build. Alabama’s 2015 results shouldn’t be compared with results from previous years when the only students taking the ACT were those planning to go to college. However, the general pattern of results is similar: a higher percentage of Alabama students beat the benchmark in English and reading; while fewer are college ready in math and science.
Another caution on comparisons, comparing Alabama’s 2015 scores to the national average is not completely fair. At the national level, the pool of students taking the ACT is more heavily weighted with students who are college bound.
But Alabama’s new scores can be compared with those of 12 other states that give the ACT to all of their students. (For the record, ACT reports that 100 percent of Mississippi graduates took the test. However, according to the Mississippi Department of Education 2015 was the first year that all that state’s juniors took the ACT. That would indicate Mississippi results won’t be 100 percent of students until next year). In the chart below, you can look through the results subject-by-subject. You can sort the results by selecting the bottom axis and choosing the icon for ascending or descending results. There are two tabs on the top of the chart. The first allows you to look at the percentage of students who scored at or above the ACT benchmark for college readiness. The other tab allows you to look at the average composite score for each state in each subject area. You’ll notice some familiar patterns in the results and some surprises. Alabama outperforms Mississippi across the board while Kentucky and Tennessee consistently outperform Alabama. Somewhat surprisingly, considering North Carolina’s historic leadership in public education improvement, that state lags behind Alabama on some measures.
Giving the test to all was a brave step in honest reporting of education measures. Regardless of comparisons and statistical nuance, it is clear Alabama has significant room to grow in producing high school graduates who are ready for success in college. Fortunately, Alabama K-12 education does have a plan in place for improvement. Plan 2020 has strategies and goals that start with Pre-K and continue through to college and career success. Hopefully, as a result of these concerted efforts being made across the educational spectrum, we’ll see Alabama ACT scores rise over time.
Alabama Strategies for National Problem of Teacher Shortages
PARCA’s new Teachers Matter report, commissioned by the Business Education Alliance, identifies Alabama-specific strategies for recruiting and retaining teachers. The report’s release comes in the midst of rising concern over a local and national shortage of teachers.
As children headed back to the classroom this month, several Alabama school systems reported difficulty filling vacancies. The Tuscaloosa City Schools System was offering $5,000 signing bonuses for math teachers. The Jefferson County School System was short 30 classroom teachers heading into the school year.
PARCA’s review of Alabama Department of Education data found that the shortages were concentrated in certain fields like math, science and special education. The shortages also tended to be concentrated in rural systems and certain urban districts. Those subjects and those geographies also tend to be where Alabama faces its toughest academic challenges. Teachers Matter suggests reviving and revising the Alabama Teacher Recruitment Incentive Program to provide scholarship support and other incentives to individuals willing to teach in high-need fields and hard-to-staff schools.
The report also recommends resurrecting the Alabama Teacher Mentoring Program, which provided a $1,000 stipend to veteran teachers who coached and supported teachers in their first year in the classroom. Teachers who’ve had mentoring support tend to be more successful and persist in the profession at a far higher rate. The report also calls for creating options other than administration for talented veteran teachers who want advance professionally but who want to stay in teaching.
The shortage problem is by no means restricted to Alabama. The New York Times and National Public Radio have recently taken a look at the problem.