Alabama is implementing a new education plan that will set annual benchmarks based on the race and other socioeconomic factors of students. The new standards, which will add new categorizations for blacks and Hispanics living in poverty and with other special needs, aims to improve statewide test scores on math and reading tests by the year 2020.
Last school year 78 Alabama schools were listed as failing under the state's new accountability standards. Students at those institutions are now being allowed to transfer schools but Plan 2020 will also give teachers a new way to focus on different ethnic and socioeconomic groups.
"It was unfair for those schools and those communities and those neighborhoods to be labeled as a failing school," says Phenix City Schools Superintendent Dr. Larry DiChiara." So the way it's set up is if that school makes the progress with those kids, that's what we want. Every year we want progress."
Last year 93% of Asian third-graders passed math. That means next year their goal is 93.6%. Black students scored lower than any other subgroup aside from kids with special needs. Of black students, 77.1% passed math. Their goal for next year is to have 79% pass.
"They're taking every sub-group where they are right now and they want to see that 15% growth," says Dr. DiChiara. "If you reach that growth, then you meet the accountability standards that the feds approved."
But Russell County Commissioner Ronnie Reed says Plan 2020 is nothing more than modern day segregation.
"I think they need to take more time out to help all the kids regardless of what race or nationality they're from," he says, "and all of us are in this together. We need to do what we can and help all of these kids."
Dr. DiChiara says there is nothing discriminatory about the standards. He feels the plan is meant to help all students.
"There's nothing about it in any way that could be perceived that way," he says, "because all it is, is a plan to help all children no matter where they are."
Plan 2020 will also change the way educators prepare students for college. Starting in the fall, every ninth grader in Alabama will meet with a counselor to decide if they intend to go to college. If the answer is no, they will enter a special career-focused track in place of some college-prep courses.
Dr. DiChiara asks, "Why should a kid have to take trigonometry, and he's going to struggle through it when all he aspires to do is he wants to go work in his father's body shop?"
Reed agrees, saying, "Everybody doesn't want to go to college, and you have some kids that want to go to college but they don't want to go at this moment. They may want to wait a couple of years before they make a decision, but in the meantime they need to have some type of skill or a trade so it'll be easier for them to find a job."
If a high-schooler changes his or her mind after picking a track, they will be able to switch, but will most likely have to take extra classes to catch up.
The scores for each school and subgroup will be graded through improvements in attendance, graduation rates, end-of-course tests and the ACT.
Plan 2020 will replace No Child Left Behind in Alabama next year.
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