By Beth Clayton
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY–Alabama elected officials are standing behind Alabama State Department of Education initiatives to improve public education in Alabama.
The United States Department of Education recently accepted the ALSDE waiver request to remove Alabama from the No Child Left Behind Act. Now, the ALSDE is able to develop “a much more specific method of measuring public school performance–Alabama’s Plan 2020.”
Plan 2020 has very clear objectives – closing the achievement gaps between student populations, increasing graduation rates for all students, moving students to proficiency, and making sure students graduate from high school prepared for college or a career.
The program will focus on four components of student success: learners, support systems, schools/systems and professionals.
In order to accurately assess where students are in their educational achievement, students are evaluated by subgroup (race, special education, limited English, poverty.) This was also done under NCLB. However, under Plan 2020, instead of expecting all subgroups to reach an arbitrary goal all at the same time or they fail, each subgroup has annual measurable objectives which are realistic, acknowledge growth, and addresses the specific needs of each subgroup.
Plan 2020 evaluates the subgroups based on “a path towards total proficiency.” Every six years, each subgroup is expected to reach half of the difference between their current proficiency and full proficiency. For example, a subgroup at 68% proficiency would be expected to increase proficiency by 16 percent in the next six years, then 8 percent more in the next six years.
Several notable Democrats and education professionals have come out in support of Plan 2020, including ALSDE Representative Ella Bell (D-Montgomery), ALSDE Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice and Senators Vivian Figures (D-Mobile) and Hank Sanders (D-Selma).
Bell says the solution is to acknowledge the true problem: the achievement gap among African-American students. “Of course the path to 100% proficiency for black students is going to look different from the path for white students – they’re starting from two different places,” Bell said. “We’ve tried others ways. Plan 2020 meets students where they are, provides support to make continual progress.”
Sanders (D-Selma) said that “openly acknowledging the disparities between our students and addressing ways to begin fixing the problem” is the solution. “Plan 2020 owns the problem,” Sanders says.
Figures (D-Mobile), the Senate Minority Leader, reminds us that “there are several Torchbearer schools that serve as models for excellence and as a constant reminder that all students have the potential to excel.”
Plan 2020 acknowledges the achievement gap and attempts to close it, Figures said.
Dr. Tommy Bice, ALSDE Superintendent, calls Plan 2020 “a comprehensive plan with multiple components” that extend beyond the student assessment piece.
“Overall, Plan 2020 will help education reform by helping better prepare students for the transition into college with new college and career ready standards,” Bice says.
Many believe that one way to reach college and career readiness is through flexible education programs that help students learn in the best ways possible.
The Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative (AMSTI) has been recognized by educators around the nation as a model for education.
In 2011, AMSTI Director Steve Ricks and Bentley hosted more than 20 international representatives to learn more about AMSTI. Fortune 500 CEOs even selected AMSTI as one of only 35 “programs that work” from across the nation.
“Education is too important to our state and our children’s futures for us not to invest in programs like AMSTI. A strong public education system not only gives our children the best chance at a bright future, it also helps state and business leaders recruit business and industry to Alabama,” said House Minority Leader Representative Craig Ford (D-Gadsden).
Earlier this week, Governor Bentley came out in support of the AMSTI program after a visit to Oak Mountain Elementary School. “We need to make learning fun so kids will enjoy school and stay in school,” Bentley said.
“We need to contribute, and we need to put money into the program,” Bentley said, adding that he wanted to see the AMSTI program expanded across the state.
Currently, approximately half of the schools in Alabama are AMSTI schools.
With the Alabama Accountability Act going into effect this fall, education policy in Alabama will see big changes in an attempt to reduce the negative impacts on all public schools and students.