Special Report: "Failing Schools" - WRBL

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Special Report: "Failing Schools"

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SEALE, Ala. -

Under a new state law, Alabama has ranked the more than 1,500 public schools based on reading and math scores. The purpose? To compile a list of "failing schools:" those ranked in the bottom 6% any 3 of the past 6 years. What puts these schools on the list? What are educators doing to get off it? News 3's Naomi Keitt is on assignment education to answer these questions in a special report, "Failing Schools."

Of the 72 schools ranked in the bottom 6%, 47 of them are middle or junior high schools, and that's only one factor that educators say many of these schools have in common. We're brining you an inside look at one school labeled as "failing" by the state and more on the Alabama Accountability Act.

Ommie and Julian Oliver are parents of a Russell County Middle School 7th grader. Their daughter Janell, a straight A honor student. They share their reaction when they first heard their daughter's school was considered failing.

"First when I got the list, like any parent, yes it struck a nerve within me," said Julian Oliver.

But Ommie and Julian say after conversations with each other and Janell, they decided to stay.

"Let's keep doing what we're doing and until what we're doing as parents is no longer working, then I'm not really going to worry about what is being said," said Julian.

Over the past 6 years, Russell County Middle School has gone from 51% of students passing reading and math, to 68% passing with increasing scores each year.

"All the growth that we've had in the last 6 years. It's almost like it's being thrown back at us. Like you didn't do enough," said Dr. Almesha Patrick, Principal of Russell County Middle School.

And looking across state data, 55 of the 72 schools had higher test scores in 2012 than in 2007. Most schools on the list have several factors in common. Cindy Reed at Auburn University explains.

"Half of those schools saw more than 94% of their students receive a subsidized lunch," said Reed.

And further data shows of the 28,268 students at failing schools, more than 87% were African American.

"There's not one single school on this list that's in an affluent area in our state, not one," said Reed.

Educators say for the 47 middle schools on that list, this age group has a specific set of challenges.

"They're struggling with hormonal changes. They're struggling with peer acceptance. That's when you'll see some of the bullying going on. And we expect the children to read, to pay attention, to do well on these tests, when they have all these other things going on and that's not their primary focus," said Dr. Patrick.

She said there are systems in place to help students succeed. They have free tutoring programs at the school and in home. They offer retention prevention which helps students with class assignments they failed and then replace those grades, and she said the students aren't the only ones getting help.

"So within the last 6 years, we have started trying to improve ourselves as professional educators and brining in a lot of different types of professional development, implementing a lot of different resources for our children so that we can deliver better instruction to improve our test scores," said Dr. Patrick.

And Ommie and Julian say parents play an important role in getting schools off of the list.

"As a parent, it's your responsibility also if not as equal even more to try and educate your kid and push your kid towards some sort of level above what the school is teaching," said Julian.

Many educators are critical of the criteria for the Alabama Accountability Act. Under the system, no matter how well schools are performing, the bottom 6% will always be considered failing. Educators say it leads to an unfair designation especially when many of these schools have actually improved test scores over the past 6 years.

A new list of schools will be compiled every year with the last 6 years adjusted. You can count on News 3 to have the updated list of failing schools as soon as that information is available.

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