Baldwin County’s public schools faired well in the round of report card grades released by the Alabama State Department of Education this week, with the system earning an overall B average.
Dr. Joyce Woodburn, academic dean for Baldwin County Schools, said the system was pleased with the results overall, especially considering the state average was a C. In fact, Baldwin County ranked in the top 25 percent of schools in the state, according to a recent study done by Niche.
Eight schools earned A’s: Daphne East Elementary, Fairhope Middle, Gulf Shores Elementary, Gulf Shores Middle, Orange Beach Elementary, Rockwell Elementary, Spanish Fort Elementary and Spanish Fort Middle.
20 schools earned Bs: Daphne Elementary, Daphne High, Daphne Middle, Delta Elementary, Elberta Elementary, Elberta High, Elsanor, Fairhope Elementary, Fairhope High, Fairhope Intermediate, Foley Elementary, Foley Intermediate, J. Larry Newton, Loxley Elementary, Perdido School, Robertsdale Elementary, Rosinton, Spanish Fort High, Stapleton Elementary, and W.J. Carroll.
Eight schools received Cs: Baldwin County High, Central Baldwin Middle, Foley Middle, Gulf Shores High, Magnolia School, Summerdale School, Silverhill Elementary and Swift School.
Four schools received Ds: Bay Minette Middle, Foley High, Pine Grove Elementary and Robertsdale High and Bay Minette Elementary received the county’s only F grade.
“Nationally, schools that have a high degree of impoverished students typically score lower than schools that are more affluent,” Woodburn said. “This really plays out in our data.”
Woodburn said the county has already undertaken programs to help raise scores and bolster learning in many of the areas that saw lower scores.
“In order to improve reading scores, the school board has already approved the placement of guided reading teachers at Bay Minette Middle, Foley Middle and Central Baldwin Middle. This effort has produced some great results and gains in reading scores with our kids,” Woodburn said. “All of the district’s elementary schools have teachers trained in guided reading, and we’re in the process of building a plan to ask for more guided reading teachers in middle and high schools because we’ve already seen the positive difference this program can make.”
Woodburn said the system has also introduced more honors courses across the county, offered more dual enrollment opportunities to students with local community colleges, and jobs programs and has unblocked math classes to allow for yearlong instructional time.
“I will say this for Superintendent Tyler - he’s allowed us to make the changes we need to try to help provide the best learning opportunities for our students that we can,” Woodburn said.
Woodburn also said Bay Minette Elementary’s failing score is somewhat unfair.
“That score is solely based on third grade scores,” Woodburn said. “This report card score does not factor in the fourth through sixth grade scores that existed prior to the merger with Bay Minette Intermediate. This year’s report card score is based on the K-3 grade configuration of the old Bay Minette Elementary School. This school’s report card score is based only two factors only; academic achievement and chronic absenteeism; academic growth is not factored into their score.”
Woodburn said the methods used to calculate the scores have changed numerous times throughout the last few years, including three or four times between Sept. and Dec. 2017.
“It can be frustrating when you see all of these changes because it feels like the target is continually being moved,” Woodburn said.
The factors for determining scores change with grade levels. For schools without a twelfth grade, 40 percent of the score comes from academic achievement on the ASPIRE test, 50 percent comes from students’ academic growth on the ASPIRE, and 10 percent is assigned to chronic absenteeism.
Woodburn said there are concerns statewide that the score for middle and elementary schools is so highly dependent on the results of one standardized test.
“90 percent of the scores in all third through eighth grade schools is based on the results of just one test,” Woodburn said. “That’s something many people around the state are asking the state department to look at tweaking.”
For schools with a twelfth grade, 30 percent of the score is tied to academic growth by tenth graders on the ASPIRE, 30 percent of the score is tied to the graduation rate, 20 percent is tied to academic achievement by tenth graders on the ASPIRE test, 10 percent is assigned to the percentage of students who qualify as college and career ready, and 10 percent is assigned to chronic absenteeism.
“In those grades, the report card score is not so reliant on that one high-stakes test,” Woodburn said.
However, Woodburn said even that configuration of how the scores are composed is due to change.
“This report card is the last time that the scores will be based on data from the ASPIRE test,” Woodburn said. “We’ll now be using SCANTRON tests for third through eighth grades and for eleventh grade at the high schools, ACT scores will be the measure of accountability. So, even now, this grading system continues to be changed and modified.”
Woodburn said she is continuing to see data that shows the system is making significant gains in reading and math, and is doing well in the academic growth category.
“We are doing incredibly well in the academic growth category,” Woodburn said. “We are really improving there and seeing gains across the county and across the grades.”
Woodburn said that while some of the scores might not be what she necessarily hoped to see, she felt the system was heading in the right direction overall.
“We didn’t have a single school on the state report that identifies the lowest 6 percent of schools in the state,” Woodburn said. “We know where we need to continue to focus and we’re going to use hands-on instructional methods we know are going to work to help continue to raise scores across the county. We want every child to have amazing academic opportunities and increased academic success.”
Superintendent Eddie Tyler said he was happy with the direction in which the county’s schools were heading.
“I am very encouraged by the academic progress students are making in our school district,” Tyler said. “Our students, teachers, counselors, administrators, support personnel, and central office personnel are working very hard to provide the best education possible for all students. I could not be more proud of our team effort, and I am honored to be a part of this journey toward academic success for all students.”