Education

Alabama schools improve on state’s standardized tests

Alabama State Department of Education logo
Alabama State Department of Education logo

The public schools systems of Phenix City, Russell County and Lee County improved their proficiency on most of the state’s standardized tests this year compared to last year.

Out of the 14 ACT Aspire tests given in 2015 and 2016, Phenix City improved on 10, Russell County and Lee County improved on eight, and the state average improved on 13, according to results released by the Alabama State Department of Education.

Overall, however, Phenix City and Russell County continue to lag behind the state average while Lee County continues to outperform it. Out of the 17 ACT Aspire tests taken in 2016, Phenix City surpassed the state average on two (third-grade reading and fifth-grade science), Russell County on one (sixth-grade math) and Lee County on 10 (third-grade math and reading; fourth-grade math; fifth-grade science; sixth-grade math; seventh-grade math and reading; 10th-grade math, reading and science).

Phenix City Superintendent Randy Wilkes wasn’t reached for comment about the scores since the state released the official results last week, but he did express his reaction in an August email to the Ledger-Enquirer when the results were unofficial.

“This past year, we invested heavily in the professional development of our teachers,” Wilkes said. “The focus and attention that we have placed on understanding the course of study standards and instructional delivery have paid tremendous dividends. Our students are engaged in the learning process as never before. Though we are pleased with the progress, we are looking for means to continue to improve student achievement.”

Russell County Superintendent Brenda Coley hasn’t been reached for comment about her system’s scores.

Lee County accountability and assessment coordinator Michelle Rutherford, on behalf of superintendent Mac McCoy, said in an email Monday to the Ledger-Enquirer, “Overall, we see a positive trend in almost every grade level.”

Asked what pleases her most about the results and what made that success happen, Rutherford said, “Although we are not satisfied with our results, in 6/7 grade levels we exceeded the national percent proficient in math; in 6/7 grade levels we met or exceeded the national percent proficient in reading and in 2/3 grade levels we met or exceeded the national percent proficient in science. We have aggressively studied the standards and provided professional development in this area.”

Asked what concerns her most about the results and what Lee County is doing to address that concern, Rutherford said, “Reading scores are lower than math scores. We have reviewed our pacing and curriculum guides and are working to better align our instruction to the standards without overlooking the importance of reading fluency in the primary grades.”

For the second straight year, Alabama’s public schools have shown overall improvement on the ACT Aspire assessments, which have been the state’s standardized tests for the past three years.

Michael Sentance, who became Alabama’s superintendent of education in August after serving as Massachusetts’ education secretary, said in a news release that he is encouraged by the increased proficiency toward college and career readiness.

“Teachers and administrators throughout Alabama are working tirelessly to make sure students receive a quality education,” Sentence said. “This is no easy task, but momentum is moving in the right direction. Although we continue to improve compared to previous years, we must make sure Alabama students reach a level of educational attainment that equals or exceeds that of students across the country and internationally.”

The scores were released the same month Gov. Robert Bentley told the Alabama Association of Regional Councils Conference, “Our education system in this state sucks,” referring to Alabama’s ranking of 51st on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in fourth-grade math.

During the spring, students in grades 3-8 and 10 take the ACT Aspire tests in math and reading; students in grades 5, 7 and 10 take the ACT Aspire test in science. The results are expressed on four levels, ranging from “In Need of Support” to “Close” to “Ready” to “Exceeding.”

Combining the top two levels, “Ready” and “Exceeding,” show proficiency because those students met or surpassed the state’s standards. That means, Wilkes said, research indicates those students are on track to earn “at least a B in college entrance classes.”

According to Education Week, Arkansas is the only other state using the ACT Aspire in grades 3-8 and high school. Wisconsin uses the ACT Aspire for high school students. New Jersey uses it as one of the options students must choose as a standardized test to graduate. Georgia uses the Georgia Milestones Assessment System, whose 2016 results were released in July.

Alabama ACT ASPIRE scores

Figures are the percentage of students who scored in the top two levels, “Ready” and “Exceeding,” which means they met or achieved more than the state’s standards and are considered proficient.

Grade 3 math

System

2015 %

2016 %

+/-

Phenix City

53

57

+4

Russell County

52

52

0

Lee County

65

67

+2

State average

54

59

+5

Grade 3 reading

System

2015 %

2016 %

+/-

Phenix City

33

39

+6

Russell County

30

26

-4

Lee County

38

40

+2

State average

35

37

+2

Grade 4 math

System

2015 %

2016 %

+/-

Phenix City

43

49

+6

Russell County

40

52

+12

Lee County

50

61

+11

State average

48

53

+5

Grade 4 reading

System

2015 %

2016 %

+/-

Phenix City

29

35

+6

Russell County

35

36

+1

Lee County

35

39

+4

State average

38

41

+3

Grade 5 math

System

2015 %

2016 %

+/-

Phenix City

45

37

-8

Russell County

35

41

+6

Lee County

45

42

-3

State average

43

45

+2

Grade 5 reading

System

2015 %

2016 %

+/-

Phenix City

29

34

+5

Russell County

33

30

-3

Lee County

31

30

-1

State average

34

36

+2

Grade 5 science

System

2015 %

2016 %

+/-

Phenix City

39

40

+1

Russell County

32

37

+5

Lee County

37

40

+3

State average

37

39

+2

Grade 6 math

System

2015 %

2016 %

+/-

Phenix City

47

47

0

Russell County

53

59

+6

Lee County

60

58

-2

State average

50

54

+4

Grade 6 reading

System

2015 %

2016 %

+/-

Phenix City

35

39

+4

Russell County

32

39

+7

Lee County

43

40

-3

State average

43

42

-1

Grade 7 math

System

2015 %

2016 %

+/-

Phenix City

30

26

-4

Russell County

17

18

+1

Lee County

39

41

+2

State average

33

37

+4

Grade 7 reading

System

2015 %

2016 %

+/-

Phenix City

25

29

+4

Russell County

29

25

-4

Lee County

44

41

-3

State average

34

36

+2

Grade 7 science

System

2015 %

2016 %

+/-

Phenix City

22

28

+6

Russell County

25

20

-5

Lee County

35

33

-2

State average

33

36

+3

Grade 8 math

System

2015 %

2016 %

+/-

Phenix City

23

22

-1

Russell County

16

15

-1

Lee County

24

27

+3

State average

27

31

+4

Grade 8 reading

System

2015 %

2016 %

+/-

Phenix City

33

41

+8

Russell County

34

39

+5

Lee County

44

45

+1

State average

44

45

+1

Grade 10 math

System

2015 %

2016 %

+/-

Phenix City

NA

15

NA

Russell County

NA

13

NA

Lee County

NA

20

NA

State average

NA

18

NA

Grade 10 reading

System

2015 %

2016 %

+/-

Phenix City

NA

23

NA

Russell County

NA

32

NA

Lee County

NA

33

NA

State average

NA

32

NA

Grade 10 science

System

2015 %

2016 %

+/-

Phenix City

NA

18

NA

Russell County

NA

18

NA

Lee County

NA

24

NA

State average

NA

23

NA

NA: Not applicable because the ACT Aspire was administered to 10th-graders for the first time in 2016.

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