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Joe Morton on Alabama's National School Report Card



Published: Sunday, January 30, 2011, 6:55 AM

From The Huntsville Times


By Dr. Joe Morton

Special to The Times

HUNTSVILLE, Ala _ Everyone gets graded.


Students get report cards. Teachers, principals and education superintendents get evaluated.


School board members get judged at the polls.


There is no escaping a report card on K-12 education no matter who you are or what you do daily. And this is good.


The most comprehensive report card in the nation is issued each January for all 50 states and Washington, D.C., for their education performances. It is conducted by Education Week, the nation's largest and most widely read education publication, and it is entitled "Quality Counts."


It is the most thorough report because it looks at each state's progress and gives a grade on six factors. Listed below are the six factors, the leading state's grade, the U.S. average for each factor, and Alabama's grade.


  • Chance for success (includes indicators such as parent education, high school graduation, family income, reading and math scores, pre-K and kindergarten enrollments.)

Massachusetts: Grade A, No. 1; U.S. average, C+; Alabama, C., No.  43.


  • K-12 achievement (includes percentage of students proficient in reading and math, changes in scores from 2003-2009, and the academic poverty gap between low-income students and non low-income students).

Massachusetts: Grade B, No.  1; U.S. average, D+; Alabama, D, No. 44.

This factor deserves a little deeper look. Education Week points out that while Alabama overall is below the national average in achievement, it is a national leader in gains in reading and math over the years of 2003-2009.

Alabama's fourth grade reading improvement is No. 2 in the nation, eighth grade reading improvement is No. 17, and eighth grade math is No. 17. Also, Alabama is No. 10 in the nation in closing the academic gap for students in poverty.


  • Transitions and alignment (includes school readiness, course credit alignment, work readiness, postsecondary decisions, career-tech diploma, college prep courses).

Arkansas, A, No. 1; U.S. average C+; Alabama, B- No. 14.


  • School finance (includes four different equity indexes and four different spending analyses).

Wyoming, A-,  No. 1; U.S. average C, Alabama, C, No. 22.

These calculations were done on available data on all 50 states before the devastating cutbacks in state funding in Alabama and many other states due to the recession. Alabama has reduced state funding for all public education by $1.5 billion (22 percent) since fiscal 2008.


  • Standards, assessments and accountability (includes academic standards, student assessments, and school and school system accountability).

West Virginia, A, No. 1; U.S. average B, Alabama, A-,  No. 12.


  • The teaching profession (includes teacher evaluations, teacher testing, data systems to monitor quality, alternative routes to certification, pay for performance, national board certification).

South Carolina, A-,  No. 1; U.S. average, C, Alabama, C+, No. 18.


So, what does all of this mean? In some categories (three) Alabama is above the national average but in my opinion the most critical of the six categories is student achievement, and we must continue to pursue better student achievement with all available energy and resources. Nothing matters more than the ability of our students to perform well academically.


Alabama has historically been a 49th or 50th ranked state in student achievement. We are no longer bringing up the rear. As the data in the report indicate, Alabama is leading or close to leading the nation in gains made. However, when one starts at the bottom and the competition is not sitting idly, the climb is difficult.


Fortunately, Alabama has the Reading Initiative; the Math, Science, and Technology Initiative; the Distance Education Initiative; and highly regarded Pre-K and Advanced Placement programs that are changing our placement forever. Regrettably, the Math and Science Initiative is funded for only half of our schools, and Pre-K and Advanced Placement are funded even less. Teachers, principals, superintendents, state and local school boards, and parents realize Alabama's students must be competitive, and we are demonstrating they can be, even under dire economic challenges.


Tens of thousands of educators and supporters know Alabama can beat the odds. That's why we have our highest ranking ever. Overall, Alabama's ranking in the "Quality Counts" report is above the national average -  a first for our state.


Alabama's current overall ranking was a C+ (the U.S. average was C) placing it 25th. It's previous ranking was 31st. Alabama public education is showing great progress and great promise.


Is it good enough to be 25th? Absolutely not!


However, we are not 49th overall not even in the bottom 25. We are on new ground.


Our job as citizens is to see that we keep making progress and become a top 10 state in the nation in public education. It will take everyone pulling together to make it happen but it can and must happen.


Dr. Joe Morton is Alabama education superintendent. He may be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Host a Community Conversation for Speak Up

North Alabama Business Leaders' Summit on Early Childhood Investment

--This Wednesday, June 22!

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The Schools Foundation First Annual Meeting--Please Join Us on Thursday, June 16!--Register here!

Please join us for The Schools Foundation's presentation of  "Our Report Card to the Community."  We will provide updates on programs of The Schools Foundation including A+ College Ready, Principally Speaking Network, and Speak Up. Don't miss this exciting opportunity to get on board in support of our public schools.  Catering by Grille 29.  Thursday, June 16 11:30am-1pm, Huntsville High School.  For more information and to register, click here.

Look forward to seeing you on the 16th!

Join the online Speak Up Community Conversation!

Join the conversation online!  Click here!

Speak Up is a community engagement effort designed to bring people together to talk about what we want for our community and for our schools.  Speak Up is an initiative of the Schools Foundation:

At the end of April 2011, we concluded our real time community conversations.  With over 100 conversations, we heard the voices of over 1300 people across Huntsville, Madison City, and Madison County.  We heard from teachers, from students, from the retired, and from some not even in school yet.  We met in churches, homes, community centers, and subdivision clubhouses.  We heard about curriculum, technology, communication, and community involvement.

We're not finished!  We need to hear YOUR voice.

Participate in the conversation by clicking here. Let us hear from you as we move forward as a collective community voice in support of public education in Huntsville, Madison City, and Madison County!


For more information about Speak Up, visit


Huntsville City Schools: "The Defining Moment" Dr. Craig Pouncey, Deputy State Superintendent, Financial and Administrative Services
Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic
Schools' ARMT scores strong but need work, data shows

NOVEMBER 18, 2010

Crystal Bonvillian, The Huntsville Times

HUNTSVILLE, AL -- "Demographics do not determine destiny for a school system."

That was the underlying message Thursday at an economic and education forum hosted by the Schools Foundation, the Committee of 100, Leadership Huntsville-Madison County and the Army Community Relations Committee.

That message became somewhat of a mantra for Jim Williams, executive director of the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA), who gave a presentation on the state of area schools.

"Demographics and finances can make a difference, but they are not insurmountable," Williams said. "I see no smoking gun here that would create insurmountable obstacles to success."

The forum began with comments from Maj. Gen. Jim Rogers, commander at Redstone Arsenal. Rogers talked about how important a good school system is to a community's economic development.

The first thing an incoming military family does, even before choosing a home, is look at the area's schools, he said.

"School systems are the bedrock and the foundation that we build our families and our businesses on," Rogers said.

Williams, when going over data for the three area school systems, explained that PARCA used results from the Alabama Reading and Math Test (ARMT) when doing its comparisons of systems across the state. The benchmark was set high, using the percentages of Level IV ARMT scores.

Reaching Level IV proficiency is like making an "A" on a test in school, Williams said.

To compare student scores by race and socio-economic status, the report used four subgroups of the schools' population - white, black, poverty and non-poverty - and compared them to the state average in each subgroup.

For the 2009-2010 school year, Huntsville's students showed a remarkable achievement gap between races and socio-economic statuses. White students exceeded the statewide percentages at Level IV proficiency across the board, as did most grade levels in the non-poverty category.

The only exceptions were third, fourth and fifth-graders in math, the data shows.

All but one grade in the poverty subgroup scored below the state average in math and reading. The seventh-grade math students scored equal to the state average.

In the black subgroup, only seventh-graders scored above the state average in math. Eighth-graders scored within a percentage point of the state average in both subjects.

Scores were markedly better for both Madison city and Madison county schools. In Madison city schools, students in the white subgroup all scored above the state average, with most age groups scoring 10 percentage points or more above that average. Non-poverty students also scored above the state benchmark.

Unlike in Huntsville's schools, the black students in Madison also scored above the benchmark in nearly every grade level. The only exceptions were third, fourth and fifth-graders in math.

Students in poverty also did better in Madison, with about half of the grade levels scoring above the benchmark and the other half scoring below.

Madison County's poverty-stricken students did the best in that category out of the three systems, with all grade levels scoring above average in both math and reading.

Students in the other three categories all scored above average as well, with the exception of fourth-grade math students in both the white and black subgroups.

Elementary and middle school students in the non-poverty category also scored either at or below the benchmark.

Williams said that, overall, the results were strong.

"Two-thirds of the time, the success rates are above the state average," Williams said. "In those areas, it's time to raise the bar."

As for schools that did not do as well as others, Williams had encouraging words.

"Every school has to start from someplace in the improvement process," he said. "Success is built over time. It's a marathon, not a sprint."

Scott McLain, president of the Schools Foundation, told the audience that Thursday was a "watershed day" for the school systems.

"We have some of the best schools in the Southeast, but we have our challenges," McLain said.

He faulted the public for a lack of involvement in the area's education system. Involvement from the community, including the business community, is vital to the success of the students, he said.

McLain also said it is not good enough for the schools to be as proficient as the state average, citing Alabama's notorious position near the bottom when compared to other states.

"The data we saw is not consistent with the way we think of the Rocket City," McLain said. "Do we want to catch up with the rest of Alabama, or do we want to do better?"

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