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.